December 6, 2010

International Affairs Budget Update, 12-06-10

1.     Congress Extends Continuing Resolution through December 18

Last week, the House of Representatives and the Senate both passed a two-week extension of the Continuing Resolution (CR) originally set to expire last Friday.  The Senate cleared the measure on Thursday by unanimous consent and the House passed it (239-178) on Wednesday.  The CR has been extended through December 18 in order to give Congress more time to resolve the outstanding FY11 appropriations bills. The President signed the measure on Saturday after returning from Afghanistan.

The endgame for the FY11 appropriations process remains unclear. Democrats favor passing an omnibus package or a year-long CR, while Republicans favor a short-term CR extending into the spring in order to have opportunities to make cuts once the 112th Congress begins. The CR funds the International Affairs Budget at the FY10 base level of $51.1 billion, which is $7.7 billion below the President’s FY11 request and approximately $5 billion below the Senate and House approved levels.

While a CR is still more likely, and the House is expected to pass a yearlong CR this week, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye has been working diligently on an omnibus package that may garner enough Republican votes for passage. If such a package, which will likely be taken up by the Senate next week, passed, the International Affairs Budget would be approximately $3 billion more than a CR.  The Senate Appropriations Committee approved $56.2 billion for the International Affairs Budget earlier in the year.  Assuming the McCaskill-Sessions proposal passes to reduce non-defense discretionary spending by $6 billion overall, the International Affairs Budget would likely end up around $54 billion.

Both chambers look to be in session for at least the next two weeks, as they work to resolve the appropriations bills and a host of other legislative items, including the Bush-era tax cuts and possibly the New START Treaty in the Senate.

2.     Debt Commission Calls International Affairs Part of National Security

The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform released a new proposal last week, but it failed to get enough support to win full endorsement of the Commission on Friday.  The new proposal recommended the International Affairs Budget be considered security spending.  Whereas the original proposal called for 1% cuts in discretionary budgets starting in 2012 based on FY10 levels, the new proposal called for keeping all discretionary spending for 2012 at FY11 levels and then cutting to inflation-adjusted FY08 levels in 2013.  Then for each subsequent year until 2015, increases in discretionary spending would be one percent below inflation.  This might have meant a 30% cut in international affairs funding from its FY10 baseline. The new proposal was also accompanied by a list of $200 billion of “illustrative cuts” that remained unchanged from the original proposal: slowing growth of foreign aid, currently at $32 billion, to $40 billion by 2015 rather than $45 billion, reducing the overhead costs of diplomatic operations, reducing voluntary contributions to the UN, and eliminating the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC).

The Commission was unable to garner the 14 votes necessary to endorse the report, falling just three votes short. Opposition from both Democratic and Republican members ranged widely from concerns with proposed entitlement reforms to disagreements about tax code reforms.  Congressional leaders had previously committed to consider a proposal endorsed by the full Commission, and the final report’s status is unclear following this unsuccessful vote. Unless otherwise reopened, the Commission is now fully adjourned.