March 27, 2015

International Affairs Budget Update, 3/27/15

1.  Senate Passes FY16 Budget Resolution; Amendment to Cut International Affairs Budget 50% Overwhelmingly Defeated

Early this morning, the Senate passed its budget resolution (S.Con.Res. 11) by a vote of 52-46.  Two Republicans – Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) – voted against the measure.

As previously reported, the Senate’s budget provides a total of $48.3 billion for the International Affairs Budget, $41.3 billion in base funding and $7.0 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO).  This represents a 1% decrease for base funding and a 24% cut to current OCO funding levels.  However, the OCO funding is in keeping with the Administration’s request of $7.0 billion.  In addition, the overall budget adheres to the FY16 post-sequester Budget Control Act (BCA) discretionary spending cap and reduces federal spending by $5.1 trillion through FY25 and balances by FY25.

Of the nearly fifty amendments considered during the marathon “vote-a-rama,” one in particular was very concerning.  Amendment #940, proposed by Senator Paul, would have moved $191 billion into defense accounts over two years from both the International Affairs Budget and domestic accounts.  The International Affairs Budget would have been slashed annually by $21 billion, representing a 50% cut.  The amendment failed by a vote of 4-96 with only Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Budget Chairman Mike Enzi (R-WY), and Senator David Vitter (R-LA) also voting in favor.

Thank you to all who took action to defeat cutting amendments to the International Affairs Budget.  This was an important victory.  For historical context, the last time Senator Paul offered a sweeping anti-foreign aid amendment (during the vote-a-rama in 2013) 26 Senators voted with him to cut foreign assistance by 33% and use that money for domestic infrastructure projects.  Click here to access USGLC’s amendment tracker, which tracked International Affairs related amendments this week.

2.  Senate SFOPs Hosts “All-Star” Hearing on Foreign Assistance

Yesterday, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander and USGLC National Security Advisory Council co-chair Admiral James Stavridis, USN (Ret.) testified before the Senate in support of foreign assistance as part of an all-star cast that included Bill Gates, Co-Chair of The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation;  Ben Affleck, Actor, Filmmaker and Founder of the Eastern Congo Initiative; Scott Ford, the CEO of Westrock Group, which promotes economic development in Africa; and John Megrue, Chairman of Born Free Africa.

Subcommittee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said it was one of the best hearings he had attended in years.  During the hearing, he praised the work of the agencies that are funded by this 1% of the federal budget and emphasized that he has “never seen what a small amount of money can do in a positive way better than [foreign aid].”

All the witnesses spoke eloquently and personally about the transformative impact of development and diplomlacy programs and how they help foster a better, safer world.  Admiral Stavridis told the committee that, “The United States faces unprecedented security challenges today, and responding to them requires a smart power approach using all the tools in our national security toolkit…The funds we allocate to foreign aid, diplomatic security, humanitarian relief, education, and the many other international programs can save us from spending far more to put boots on the ground in troubled regions. It’s exceptionally cost-effective.”  A replay of the hearing can be found here.  Immediately following the hearing, Senator Graham convened the witnesses in the Vice President’s office right off the Senate floor to rally opposition to the Paul amendment.

3.  House Passes FY16 Budget Resolution

On Wednesday, the House passed its FY16 Budget Resolution (H.Con.Res. 27) by a vote of 228-199 after rejecting several alternative budgets.  Seventeen Republicans voted against the measure, with no Democrats supporting it.

Much like the Senate measure, the House Budget adheres to the FY16 post-sequester BCA discretionary spending cap.  It reduces federal spending by $5.5 trillion through FY25, and brings the budget into balance in FY24.  For the International Affairs Budget, the resolution provides $42.9 billion: $38.9 billion in base funding and $4.0 billion for OCO.  This represents a 16% overall cut and a 7% cut to current base funding.

During debate on the floor, alternative budget resolutions providing varying levels of funding for International Affairs Budget base programs were considered but all were defeated, including those by:

  • The Republican Study Committee, sponsored by Rep. Stutzman (R-IN), provided $38.1 billion in base funding for the International Affairs Budget; Rejected by a vote of 132-294;
  • House Democrats, sponsored by Budget Committee Ranking Member Van Hollen (D-MD), provided $48.0 billion in base funding for the International Affairs Budget; Rejected by a vote of 160-264;
  • The Progressive Caucus, sponsored by Rep. Grijalva (D-AZ), provided $59.2 billion in base funding for the International Affairs Budget; Rejected by a vote of 96-330; and
  • The Congressional Black Caucus, sponsored by Rep. Butterfield (D-NC), provided $57.2 billion in base funding for the International Affairs Budget; Rejected by a vote of 120-306.

International Affairs Policy Recommendations in House Budget

Similar to last year, this year’s House budget resolution also includes a few troubling “policy options:”

  • Designate the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) as lead agency on foreign development assistance – the Committee posits that the MCC is more effective and efficient than USAID’s development aid programs in delivering foreign aid.  It notes that USAID’s reform agenda – USA Forward – announced in 2010 has led to some changes in the agency’s practices, but argues that “success continues to remain elusive.”
  • Reduce contributions to International Organizations – the Committee views voluntary contributions to international organizations (including UNICEF, UNFPA, and UNDP) as duplicative to the U.S. obligatory payments included under the Contributions to International Organizations account.
  • Eliminate funding for peripheral foreign affairs institutions – the Committee suggests termination of funding for the African Development Foundation, the Inter-American Foundation, and the Asia Foundation among other smaller foundations that support U.S. foreign policy objectives.
  • Reduce education exchange programs – the Committee recommends cutting Department of State-run educational exchange programs, asserting that they are “non-essential” programs within the International Affairs Budget.

4.  Next Steps on FY16 Budget and Appropriations

With the adoption of their respective budget resolutions, the House and Senate will form a conference committee to reconcile their budgets.  A key feature of the conference report, in addition to the binding FY16 discretionary spending cap, will be reconciliation instructions for select committees to take action and amend existing law to bring spending, revenues, or the debt limit into alignment with the budget resolution.  The International Affairs Budget is not impacted by these provisions, however.

With approval of a conference report, the Appropriations Committees will then set allocations for FY16 subcommittee appropriations, known as 302(b) allocations.  They will then start consideration of each of the 12 appropriations bills including the State-Foreign Operations appropriations bill, which houses 97% of the International Affairs Budget.