WASHINGTON — A House committee voted Thursday to eliminate federal funding for the East-West Center in Honolulu.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee voted 26-17 to reject an amendment that would have preserved funding for the center as part of the State Department’s next budget.

Congress established the East-West Center in 1960s, but Republicans now say the center should be privatized. The bill that would end funding for the center still faces several legislative hurdles before it can become law.

“I am unaware of any major accomplishments that can be attributed to the East-West Center over its 50 years,” said Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) in testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “If indeed it is worthwhile and has served a proper function and made some things that are respected and acknowledged throughout the Pacific, I would imagine that there are some Pacific countries that would like to jump in and put there money down.”

Another California Republican, Congressman Edward Royce, called congressional support for the East-West Center one of the “programs that refuse to die,” referring to a Washington Post article that referred to the nonprofit as “one of the budget’s great immortals.”

“We’re borrowing money from around the world to fund the East-West Center,” Royce said. “If you go on the website right now, you’ll see they’re hosting an art exhibition to highlight urban culture. They’re receiving $20 million to do things that are frankly done by other institutions.”

Royce alluded to Sen. Daniel K. Inouye‘s influential position as Senate Appropriations chairman  — without actually naming the senator — as the reason the center has continued to receive federal funding.

“One senator has stepped in and essentially doubled the amount appropriated to the center,” Royce said. “In the past six years, Congress basically has overpaid the center $50 million in terms of what they asked for. This funding has been on cruise control and it forces us to take a look at what’s produced there.”

American Samoa Congressman Eni Faleomavaega, who sponsored the amendment to continue funding the East-West Center, said federal support had already been slashed from about $23 million to $10 million, and pointed to the center’s Honolulu location as critical for social and political relations in the Pacific.

“While I agree that we need to cut the federal budget, I do not believe we should carelessly disregard programs that are necessary to protecting U.S. interests,” Faleomavaega said in testimony Thursday afternoon. “I agree that federal support can be scaled back… All I’m suggesting is that we not eliminate the East-West Center.”

Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) also spoke in support of the center, saying that it does “a lot of good work.”

Hawaii Reps. Colleen Hanabusa and Mazie Hirono both submitted testimony urging the committee to preserve funding for the center, saying that divesting it sends a bad message in the months before the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference will be hosted in Honolulu in November.

About the Author