November 17, 2011

International Affairs Budget Update, 11-17-11

1.    Senate Postpones FY12 State-Foreign Operations Debate; Next Steps

With the Senate’s decision earlier this week to forego action on the FY12 State-Foreign Operations Appropriations bill (S. 1601), as part of a second minibus appropriations measure, action now shifts to conference negotiations between House and Senate appropriators to reconcile the two chambers’ bills. The task will be considerable given the $5 billion difference in the bills’ overall allocations, wide variations in funding levels for specific accounts, and several contentious policy-related provisions.

Earlier this week, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey weighed in with House and Senate Appropriations leaders on the importance of robust funding for development and diplomacy programs.  In a letter to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-HI), House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY), and State-Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee Chairs Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Kay Granger (R-TX), Secretary Panetta and General Dempsey wrote “[t]he return on investment from robust diplomatic efforts and targeted development programs is the protection of both the lives of our people not sent into harm’s way and our Nation’s fiscal health as we prevent problems from leading to armed conflict.”

The House and Senate are expected by tomorrow to approve a second Continuing Resolution (CR), as part of the final FY12 Agriculture, Commerce-Justice-Science, and Transportation-HUD minibus.  This will give negotiators until December 16 to finalize the nine remaining appropriations bills, including the State-Foreign Operations bill.  Speculation is that this will take the form of one omnibus appropriations measure, although it will meet strong resistance from some House Republicans.  If Congress cannot wrap up work on a final FY12 omnibus before the Christmas recess, they will have to pass a third CR into the New Year.

2.    Super Committee Deadline Fast Approaching

With the November 23 deadline for the Super Committee to propose a plan for reducing the deficit by at least $1.2 trillion less than a week away, lawmakers on the Committee are scrambling to try and forge a compromise amid increasing partisan posturing from both sides over which party will be to blame if the Committee is unable to reach an agreement.  The main sticking points remain over revenue increases and entitlement reform.  The Committee may hold a public session next week to debate the competing proposals that have been offered by Republicans and Democrats on the committee and vote on those proposals.

If the Committee is able to reach a deal it almost certainly will include across-the-board cuts to discretionary programs, imposing additional cuts to those already being shouldered by the International Affairs Budget.  If the Committee is unable to reach a deal, or if Congress is unable to pass an agreement reached by the Committee, the International Affairs Budget will be susceptible to the automatic spending cuts set to begin in FY13.

3.    House Taking Up Balanced-Budget Amendment

Today the House will take up consideration of a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution (H. J. Res. 2), with a vote scheduled for tomorrow.  The bill would require that federal spending not exceed revenues, unless three-fifths of both the House and Senate voted to allow deficit spending.  It would also require a three-fifths majority in order to raise the debt ceiling, but only a simple majority to raise taxes.  This measure is a more moderate version of other balanced-budget amendment proposals, including one favored by conservatives that imposes spending caps and limits spending levels to 18% of GDP.

The vote on the measure, which requires a two-thirds majority (290 votes) for passage, is expected to be close.  Under the terms of the August debt ceiling deal, both chambers are required to hold a vote on a balanced-budget amendment before the end of the year, but the Senate has yet to take action.  The House passed a nearly identical balanced-budget amendment in 1995 by a vote of 300-132, but the measure failed in the Senate.