February 9, 2016

Is our budget keeping up with a dangerous world? 6 takeaways from the FY17 budget request

By Liz Schrayer

Get USGLC’s exclusive report on the President’s International Affairs Budget request here.

With all eyes on New Hampshire today and the 2016 presidential horserace, it’s pretty easy to miss a relatively wonky, but actually important moment in Washington: the kickoff to the budget season with the Administration’s release of its proposal to Congress.

What’s consequential is that regardless of who wins the presidential race, this budget is the one the next president will inherit for the first year in office.

What struck me as I read through the budget is the disconnect between the funding levels and our nation’s ability to keep pace with the growing global challenges. And to be honest, I am concerned.

The good news is that the two-year budget deal reached by Congress and the Administration last November spared international affairs programs from dangerous cuts from sequestration. But we are kidding ourselves if we think that the funding levels over the years are keeping pace with an increasingly challenging world, allowing America to protect our interests overseas in the long-run.

Here are my 6 key takeaways on what the budget proposal means for America’s global leadership:

1. As world crises grow, funding to meet challenges does not keep pace.

From ISIS to Syria to Russia to the Zika virus, it’s no secret that we’re facing growing challenges and increasingly complex threats overseas. This year’s budget request totaling $54.1 billion is slightly down — a 1 percent cut from last year. And if you look over the last six years, the total International Affairs Budget has been cut by 12 percent.

While sequestration would have led to draconian cuts, this trend is very concerning for ensuring strong American leadership overseas. We’ll need to work to prevent further cuts this year as Congress moves ahead with the budget process.

2. Growing dependence on “wartime” funding is dangerous for long-term.

In a time of shrinking budgets, the key “relief valve” that has ensured international program funding can meet growing challenges has been an emergency wartime account known as Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO). This account has been absolutely essential to meet growing needs, but is now funding things well beyond emergency program.

The reliance on it has steadily grown from 9 to 28 percent since 2010 while base funding has been cut by 30 percent. This is a dangerous trend in the long run with more than one of every four international dollars covered by this temporary account.

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As this account disappears, I’m worried that other sources may not provide adequate support for the ongoing needs that sadly are not going away anytime soon. Both Congress and the Administration will need to strengthen core international affairs funding so that our diplomats and development workers have the resources they will continue to need.

3. Administration prioritizes countering ISIS and other global hotspots.

For the third year in a row, the budget focuses on providing critical civilian tools on the national security front alongside our military in not only countering ISIS but to address a range of global hotspots. Priorities this year are supported by a 19 percent increase over fiscal year 2015 to respond to the threat of ISIS in Syria and Iraq and surrounding areas, including funds to strengthen our partners in the region and help the millions of people displaced inside and outside Syria.

Similarly, an increase of 25 percent is proposed to counter Russian aggression in Ukraine, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia.

4. New funding for Zika, malaria in global health programs.

Global health is always a priority and this year is no exception. In a last-minute addition to the budget proposal, the Administration added a large emergency push to combat the Zika virus, including a portion of funds for the State Department and USAID.

The budget proposal also includes a new push to combat malaria with an increase of 30 percent to stop the spread of this deadly disease following the President’s State of the Union promise. Lastly, the Administration continues its focus – with a slight increase in overall global health programs – on creating an AIDS-free generation, ending preventable child and maternal deaths, and protecting communities from disease.

6. International economic tools a priority, again.

The budget reflects a growing trend that the priority of America’s engagement overseas is not just about security, but also about our economic growth. The budget proposal strengthens our economic tools and programs that create an enabling environment overseas for U.S. trade, exports, and investments.

This includes $1 billion for the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), an 11 percent increase, a growth of 30 percent for the Overseas Private Investment Corporation’s (OPIC) and an increase of 35 percent for the U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA). All of these increases are good news for global development and economic interests here at home.

budgetYou can check out USGLC’s full analysis of the winners and losers of round one of the budget battles. I am certainly urging Congress to support no less than the Administration’s international affairs request.

So today, as voters go to the polls in the first of the nation primary, I am going to keep one eye on New Hampshire – and one eye on Nigeria, Nicaragua, and many other parts of the globe. Because I know that today’s decisions on the budget will most certainly impact these candidates next February when one of them will have to pick up the mantel and respond to the next challenge in our interconnected, complex world.