April 11, 2014

International Affairs Budget Update, 4-11-14

1.    House Passes FY15 Budget Resolution

The House on Thursday passed its FY15 Budget Resolution (H. Con. Res. 96) by a tight vote of 219-205 after rejecting several alternative budgets. Twelve Republicans voted against the measure, with no Democrats supporting it.

The House Budget, which would balance the budget over 10 years by cutting discretionary and mandatory spending $5.1 trillion over ten years, provides a total of $45 billion for the FY15 International Affairs Budget, including $39.1 billion in base funding.  This represents an 11% cut compared to FY14 enacted funding and the Administration’s FY15 request.

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

  • The House Democrats, sponsored by Budget Committee Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), which provided $50 billion for the International Affairs Budget; Rejected by a vote of 163-261;
  • The Republican Study Committee, sponsored by Rep. Rob Woodall (R-GA), which did not provide a specific funding level for the International Affairs Budget but contained even deeper cuts to discretionary spending than the Ryan Budget Resolution; Rejected by a vote of 133-291;
  • Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) put forth a substitute budget that provided $39.4 billion for the International Affairs Budget; Rejected by a vote of 2-413;
  • The Congressional Black Caucus, sponsored by Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI), which provided $56.8 billion for the International Affairs Budget; Rejected by a vote of 116-300; and
  • The Congressional Progressive Caucus, sponsored by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), which provided $60.9 billion for the International Affairs budget; Rejected by a vote of 89-327.

Similar to last year, this year’s House budget resolution also includes a few troubling “policy options,” including reducing contributions to International Organizations and tasking the Millennium Challenge Corporation as the lead agency on Development Assistance.  The policy options section contains new language on USAID Forward acknowledging the work to adopt “more accountable policy standards, country ownership and timetables” but notes that while “some changes have been made to the agency’s practices, success continues to remain elusive.

2.  FY15 Appropriations Update

This week the House Appropriations Committee began action on its FY15 spending bills by approving provisional 302(b) allocations and appropriations bills for Military Construction-Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Legislative Branch – both of which are among the least controversial of the twelve appropriations bills.  The Committee is holding off further action on the other 302(b) allocations and spending bills until the Congressional Budget Office releases its score of the President’s FY15 Budget Request later next week.  Because Congress began a two-week recess today, further action on the spending bills will not occur until the end of this month when the House Appropriations Committee is expected to take up the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (C-J-S) bill. Senate Appropriators are not expected to begin marking up their bills until mid-May.

The State-Foreign Operations (SFOPs) Appropriations bills are expected to be among the last bills acted on by both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. The House SFOPs Subcommittee is not expected to markup its FY15 spending bill until after the Memorial Day recess, with full Committee markup expected in June.  The Senate Appropriations Committee’s action on the State-Foreign Operations bill will likely follow a similar path, given House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) and Chairwoman Mikulski (D-MD) are trying to coordinate to some degree the order of appropriations action in each of their chambers.  While both leaders have expressed a strong desire to have all 12 appropriations bills get floor votes, it is unlikely that the calendar will allow all 12 bills to see floor action before the August recess. In the Senate, for example, Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) has promised Chairwoman Mikulski two weeks of floor time in June and two weeks in July, which would not allow sufficient time for all 12 bills.

Secretary Kerry Testifies on FY15 Budget

This week Secretary of State John Kerry wrapped up his testimony on Capitol Hill on the FY15 International Affairs Budget request, appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday.  The hearing focused largely on a vast array of foreign policy challenges – including Syria, Ukraine, and Iran – and had little focus on the budget itself.  In his testimony, Secretary Kerry emphasized the Administration’s use of “21st century tools” of development and diplomacy in an ever-complex world that demands American leadership.  In fielding questions, Kerry took the opportunity to highlight achievements of the budget, including that the U.S. is “the single greatest supporter of the humanitarian effort in Syria” and that we have “saved the lives of 5 million kids in Africa” through PEPFAR, all while the budget is “getting smaller, not bigger.”

Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ) in his opening remarks lauded the request as putting the International Affairs Budget on “solid footing after several years of uncertainty,” though he raised concerns about cuts to the Western Hemisphere, global health, and humanitarian accounts.  The hearing had some heated exchanges between Secretary Kerry and Senators Bob Corker (R-TN) and John McCain (R-AZ) regarding the Administration’s approach to Syria and Russia in particular.

Administrator Shah Testifies on FY15 Budget

This week USAID Administrator Raj Shah appeared before the House and Senate State-Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittees, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to defend the Administration’s FY15 Budget request for USAID.  Shah lauded USAID Forward, which he said has enhanced evaluation mechanisms, allowing USAID to reduce program areas by 34% and redistribute those funds in more cost-effective ways.  In addition, Shah spoke about the recent launch of the USAID Global Development Lab, which invests in the power of science and technology in development.  The Global Development Lab already boasts a number of partners and will continue to recruit in order to maximize impact.

During the House State-Foreign Operations Subcommittee hearing, Chairwoman Kay Granger (R-TX) expressed her opposition to proposed cuts to global health, humanitarian, and biodiversity accounts.  During the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) highlighted the importance of aid programs but noted that they need to be executed effectively in order to be able to justify the spending in this time of tight budgets.  Also in the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) reinforced the national security case for development, referring to USAID as a “force multiplier” that can help prevent the U.S. from going to war.  Reps. Kinzinger and Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), another member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and both veterans, recently sent a bipartisan letter along with twelve of their fellow veterans in the House to Chairmen Ryan and Rogers in support of a strong FY15 International Affairs Budget.

Though many members expressed gratitude for what Shah has accomplished since assuming his leadership of USAID, a number of concerns were raised about decreased funding for specific accounts, including Basic Education, Maternal and Child Health, and combating drug-resistant tuberculosis.  Other issues raised were proposed cuts to Western Hemisphere funds by Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX), Chairman Menendez, and Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) and the need for greater efforts and resources toward food aid reform by Ranking Member Corker (R-TN) and Senator Mike Johanns (R-NE).

Finally, given the recent news surrounding the ZunZuneo program in Cuba, there were a number of questions surrounding democracy building and “breaking the information blockade.”  Chairman Menendez asked for a full list of USAID’s democracy building activities throughout the world so that the authorizers could evaluate the programs across the spectrum.  Many members, including Ranking Member Nita Lowey (D-NY), Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ), and Chairman Pat Leahy (D-VT), also questioned whether these types of programs should be run by USAID, expressing concern that the politicization of these programs could harm the effectiveness of other development projects.

3.  Ukraine Assistance Bills Enacted

Last week Congress passed and the President signed into law two authorization bills that will bolster U.S. economic support for Ukraine and strengthen Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty broadcasting into the country.  Both measures cleared Congress on April 1st and were signed into law two days later.

The aid package (H.R. 4152) authorizes the use of prior-year unobligated appropriations to back a $1 billion U.S. loan guarantee aimed at stabilizing the fragile Ukrainian economy.  The bill also:

  • Authorizes $50 million for FY15 in support of democracy, civil society, governance, and technical assistance for Ukraine and other Central and East European countries;
  • Authorizes $100 million for FY15-FY17 to enhance security cooperation among the United States, the European Union, and the states of Central and Eastern Europe and provide extra American security assistance to countries in the region, including Ukraine; and
  • Imposes a package of sanctions against persons the President determines to have perpetuated violence in Ukraine against anti-government protesters beginning in November 2013; against those that have undermined peace and security in Ukraine; and against Russian officials and their close associates who have been responsible for significant acts of corruption in Ukraine.

Previously, in late March, the House and Senate had approved similar bills authorizing a loan guarantee to Ukraine.  The Senate measure had included provisions to reform the International Monetary Fund (IMF) but when disagreement arose that threatened to delay the Ukraine aid package, the Senate dropped the IMF text from the bill.

The other measure approved last week, S. 2183, authorizes up to $10 million to bolster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty broadcasting in several languages to citizens of Ukraine and neighboring states and to enhance jamming circumvention technology to ensure that broadcasting services are not disrupted.