Senate Releases 302(b) Allocations, Ebola Funds Redirected for Zika, Congress Advances Food Security Bills, SFOPS All-Star Hearing

1. Senate Appropriations Committee Approves Spending Allocations: State-Foreign Operations Slightly Down

The Senate kicked off the appropriations season this week and issued its spending allocations for each of the 12 appropriations bills—known as 302(b) allocations. Under the bipartisan budget deal reached last year, which staved off draconian sequestration cuts, discretionary spending is held essentially flat, which left little room for increases for programs other than those that had mandatory needs (i.e. veterans’ health benefits). This resulted in some bills receiving small bump ups and others with small decreases.

The State-Foreign Operations (SFOPS) appropriations bill, which funds 96% of the International Affairs Budget, received a total of $52.1 billion for FY17, 1% below current levels ($600 million). As has been the case for several years, there are two funding streams:

  • $37.2 billion in base funding, which includes funding for long-term programs that implement core development and diplomacy programs overseas; and
  • $14.9 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding, which includes funding for war-related programs and other global hotspots and emergencies.

The allocation, while down, is actually significantly better than earlier rumors of a potential $3-$4 billion cut, similar to the non-binding levels in the current House budget resolution. The allocation was not that different than the Administration’s request—both had the same OCO levels, with the Senate calling for a $600 million reduction in base funding and the Administration including a $500 million cut in base funding. Hopefully, House appropriators will follow the Senate’s lead rather than the draconian cuts outlined in the budget resolution when determining their SFOPS allocations.

It should be noted that Senate offices reported hearing from a wide range of influential constituents on this issue leading up to the markup and praised the letter signed by nearly 20 of their former colleagues as an indication of the importance of these programs. The USGLC thanks all of our partners and supporters who contacted Senators this week, as it clearly made a difference.

State-Foreign Operations Snapshot

FY16 Enacted FY17 Request FY17 Senate SFOPS
Base $37.8 billion $37.7 billion $37.2 billion
OCO $14.9 billion $14.9 billion $14.9 billion
Total $52.7 billion $52.6 billion $52.1 billion

While it is certain that the wide range of voices that weighed in with policymakers, coupled with the reality of the global challenges, made a difference as Senate appropriators finalized spending levels, it is important to keep in mind that even under the Administration’s request, since 2010, funding for International Affairs is not keeping pace with global needs—having been cut 12% when adjusted for inflation. Given the challenges abroad—from ISIS and Zika to the historic refugee crisis—we have our work cut out for us to ensure adequate resources, both in the short- and long-term.

Next Steps

The Senate is moving at an unprecedented speed on appropriations in the hopes of reaching Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) stated goal of “regular order”—i.e., passing all 12 spending bills before October 1st. The House traditionally moves appropriations bills first, but with the chamber at a standstill over the fate of the budget resolution, Senate Leadership is planning to use spending bills from last year as a vehicle to accelerate its process.

In the House, appropriators have also begun to draft and approve spending bills but until the budget resolution stalemate is resolved, they are unlikely to advance beyond the Committee until at least the middle of May. In fact, it remains unclear as to when the Committee will release its 302(b) allocations. House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-GA) emphasized this week that floor action on the FY17 budget resolution was still possible and Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) has made similar statements, though a vote has yet to be scheduled.

2. Unobligated Ebola Funds Redirected for Zika

Last week, two months after submitting a $1.9 billion emergency funding request to combat the Zika virus to Congress, the Administration reprogrammed approximately $600 million to fight the disease, approximately $140 million of which is for the Department of State and USAID. Much of the reprogrammed funding came from unobligated Ebola funding.

While there is broad agreement on Capitol Hill that the U.S. must confront the spread of the disease before the outbreak worsens, Republican appropriators in the House and Senate have resisted an emergency supplemental, arguing that the Administration should first use unobligated funding. On Wednesday, during a markup of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs spending bill, House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Nita Lowey (D-NY) introduced an amendment that would have provided the Administration’s requested amount of $1.9 billion in emergency funding to address the Zika virus. Arguing that the Administration’s request would constitute a “slush fund,” Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) opposed the amendment. The Committee voted on party lines to adopt a substitute amendment that makes clear the Administration has the authority to use unobligated Ebola funds to address Zika.

Notably, during debate, Chairman Rogers revealed that Committee staff had begun drafting the emergency supplemental, although he said that they needed additional information from the Administration before proceeding.

3. Food Security & Food Aid Funding Moves in the House

Congress took several actions this week to advance food security policy and ensure funding for emergency food aid programs.

  • On Tuesday, the House voted 370-33 to pass the Global Food Security Act (H.R. 1567). The bill, introduced by Reps. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Betty McCollum (D-MN), authorizes a comprehensive U.S. government strategy to promote global food security and combat malnutrition. During floor debate, Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY) said the bill demonstrates “bipartisanship at its best,” which USGLC President and CEO Liz Schrayer also emphasized in a statement praising the bill’s passage.
  • On the Senate side, the Global Food Security Act (S. 1252) was reported out of the Foreign Relations Committee in March and will likely be acted upon soon. Should the bill pass Congress, it will be the second major piece of foreign assistance legislation passed by the Congress in the last several months—the Electrify Africa Act being the first—which is a good indication of the bipartisan support these programs enjoy in Congress.

Finally, the House Appropriations Agriculture Subcommittee on Wednesday approved its FY17 Agriculture Appropriations bill, which includes funding for two food aid accounts: Food for Peace (PL 480/international food assistance) and the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition program. The bill provides $1.47 billion for Food for Peace, $250 million (15%) below current levels but 9% above the request. This would bring funding back to the FY15 level, after what appropriators had described as a one-time plus up of $250 million in FY16.

FY17 Agriculture Appropriations International Programs Snapshot

FY16 Enacted FY17 Request FY17 House Ag
Food for Peace/P.L. 480 Title II $1.72 billion $1.35 billion $1.47 billion
McGovern-Dole $202 million $182 million $202 million
Local and Regional Procurement $0 $15 million $0
Total $1.92 billion $1.55 billion $1.67 billion

4. All-Star State-Foreign Operations Hearing

On Tuesday, State-Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC) convened another all-star hearing to discuss the important role foreign assistance plays in combating violent extremism featuring Bono, General Jim Jones, USMC (Ret.), Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken, and Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees Kelly Clements. At the hearing, Senator Graham noted his support for developing a Marshall Plan for the Middle East to help counter violent extremism and his intention to develop an emergency supplemental package to address growing needs in the region and elsewhere. Below are several key quotes from the hearing:

  • Senator Graham (R-SC): “This account is 1% of the federal budget and because of world events it is tremendously under siege and I don’t want to take money away from PEPFAR. I don’t want to take money away from malaria. I don’t want to take money away from Peace Corps.”
  • Senator Leahy (D-VT): “You know the way the public is—’why are we giving 25% of our budget to foreign aid?’ Of course it’s a fraction, it’s a fraction of 1%, and the return, you know, pay for it now or pay many, many, many times more later on.”
  • General Jones: “U.S. foreign assistance has produced great achievements in the last century to alleviate extreme poverty, advance global health and respond to natural disasters and humanitarian emergencies. The return on investment in global influence and national security is enormous.”
  • Bono: “The fact is that aid can no longer be seen as charity—a nice thing to do if you can afford it. If there’s one thing I’d like you to take away from this testimony it is that aid in 2016 is not charity—it is national security.”