October 9, 2015

International Affairs Budget Update 10/9/15

1. Budget Watch: Three Scenarios

After the House of Representatives’ chaotic day yesterday with Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) pulling out of the race for Speaker, Congress is heading into the October recess with lack of clarity on who will lead the House as lawmakers work toward a budget deal to fund the government through FY16.

The current Continuing Resolution (CR) runs out December 11th and there are many obstacles that could impact a final budget deal, including the House Republican Conference’s deliberations over who to nominate for Speaker and the likely vote on raising the debt ceiling before November 5th. Keeping in mind these obstacles, there are three likely scenarios for how Congress funds the government through the end of FY16. Below we outline how each scenario would likely impact the International Affairs Budget.

  • Worst Case Scenario – No Deal: If the Administration and Congress cannot reach an agreement to raise the spending caps, the Non-Defense Discretionary portion of the budget would likely be funded through a full-year Continuing Resolution (CR).  This would fund the International Affairs Budget at or slightly below the FY15 level of $50.9 billion. Because a full-year CR would essentially continue current funding levels it would likely not include new funding or policy priorities proposed by either the Administration or Appropriators, such as assistance to Central America, UN Peacekeeping, and reforms to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Similarly, under this scenario, the growing humanitarian and migration crisis and emerging needs in Ukraine would also likely not be addressed.
  • Better Case Scenario – Small Deal: The Administration and Congress could reach a small deal that would allow for increased discretionary spending for one year by finding some savings in mandatory programs or revenue increases and allow Appropriators to conference their Committee-approved FY16 spending bills. Given the competing priorities within the discretionary budget, such a deal might result in little or no increase for the International Affairs Budget but would give Appropriators more flexibility to address some of the most pressing humanitarian needs.
  • Best Case Scenario – Big Deal: If enough mandatory savings and revenue increases can be found, lawmakers could agree to a two-year deal that substantially raises the caps—similar to, or perhaps even larger than, the deal reached between Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) in 2013.  If the deal mirrors the Ryan-Murray deal, the International Affairs Budget could receive an increase in funding of approximately $1 billion, or possibly more.  This type of deal would allow for increases in funding for many programs funded in the International Affairs Budget and allow the United States to better address the myriad of crises around the world.

Earlier this week many in Congress believed a two-year budget deal was the most likely outcome, but the turmoil in the House Republican Conference will undoubtedly impact lawmakers’ ability to find consensus. Some reports indicate that Congressional leadership could attempt to push through a budget deal that also raises the debt ceiling before the end of October, but it is too early to tell if that is a plausible way forward.

2. Refugee Supplemental Introduced by Senators Graham and Leahy

On Tuesday Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate State-Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, introduced a supplemental spending bill to help address the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis. The bill, which would provide $1 billion in additional humanitarian aid, would be funded as an emergency measure and not subject to the current caps on spending. The funds could be used both to assist Syrian and Iraqi refugees located in neighboring countries, and refugees resettled in the U.S.

The House has yet to discuss or introduce legislation that would increase funding to deal with the crisis but there is growing discussion that—due to the existing severe strain on resources within the International Affairs budget—additional resources will be needed to address the crisis.  The proposal introduced by Senators Graham and Leahy or another similar proposal could be included in the next budget measure, whether a broader deal or a CR.

3. Congress Considers International Affairs Related Bills

Several important bills and issues related to International Affairs programs saw action in Congress this week. Below is an update:

Electrify Africa

On Thursday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved by voice vote the Electrify Africa Act of 2015 (S. 2152).  The bill, introduced by Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) and Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-MD), would direct the President to create a comprehensive strategy to develop energy solutions and expand electricity access across Sub-Saharan Africa to alleviate poverty and drive economic growth. The approved bill included two amendments (both offered by Senator Ed Markey (D-MA)) that would ensure electricity development is not concentrated in one region and that local communities are consulted. Unfortunately, this bill did not include a provision to reauthorize the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC). Both Senators Corker and Cardin called for quick passage of the bill by the full Senate.  Once approved, it could move to the House for consideration.

Syrian Humanitarian Crisis

On Thursday, the House Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa held a hearing on the severe humanitarian crisis resulting from the ongoing conflict in Syria.  Save the Children, World Vision, CARE, and Mercy Corps testified on the devastation the crisis has wrought and the need for U.S. leadership in helping to find an end to the conflict.  Last week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a similar hearing with Refugees International, the U.S. Institute for Peace, and the International Rescue Committee testifying.

Global Hunger

On Wednesday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee held two hearings on efforts to end global hunger.  Former U.S. Agriculture Secretary and USGLC Chairman Dan Glickman, former USAID Administrator Raj Shah, Professor Christopher Barrett, and Bread for the World’s Reverend David Beckmann testified before the full committee on the need to reform and improve U.S. food aid programs. Later in the day, the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations held a hearing on U.S. food security and nutrition programs. Catholic Relief Services’ Carolyn Woo, One Acre Fund’s David Hong, and Roger Thurow of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs discussed the importance of U.S. agricultural development programs that empower small-holder farmers to better feed their families and lift themselves out of poverty.

Maternal and Child Health

Reps. David Reichert (R-WA), Betty McCollum (D-MN), Barbara Lee (D-CA), and Michael McCaul (R-TX) introduced the Reach Every Mother and Child Act (H.R. 3706) this week.  This legislation is similar to a version introduced in the Senate in July by Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Chris Coons (D-DE), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Patty Murray (D-WA), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH).  The bill would authorize a Maternal and Child Survival Coordinator within the U.S. government and require the President to establish a multi-year strategy to achieve the goal of ending preventable maternal, newborn, and child deaths by 2035.

International Religious Freedom

On Tuesday, the House passed the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom Reauthorization Act of 2015 (S. 2078). The Senate passed the legislation, which was sponsored by Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), last week and it is now headed to the President’s desk for signature.  The bill authorizes the Commission for five years.