August 7, 2013

International Affairs Budget Update, 8-6-13

1.    House Foreign Affairs Committee Approves FY14 State Department Authorization Bill

The House Foreign Affairs Committee approved last Thursday by voice vote the FY14 Department of State Operations and Embassy Security Authorization Act (H.R. 2848).  The bipartisan measure authorizes a subset of the International Affairs Budget, about 15 accounts in total.  The total authorization level of $15.4 billion is about 9% less than provided for FY13 but only 2.3% below the Administration’s FY14 request.

In his opening statement, Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) called the bipartisan bill a “basic Committee responsibility” to ensure effective Congressional oversight of State Department programs and to legislate new activities, save money, and reform existing programs.  If enacted, it would be the first such State Department authorization passed by Congress in over ten years.  Also endorsing the bill, Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY) added, “The funds authorized in this bill support all of the State Department’s operations around the world for less than three percent of the Defense Department’s total budget. To me, that’s a very wise investment in U.S. national security.”

H.R. 2848 fully funds the President’s FY14 recommendation for Diplomatic and Consular Programs, Embassy Security, and the State Department’s Inspector General.  It includes a variety of provisions concerning security at high-risk, high-threat posts and the recommendations of the Benghazi Accountability Review Board (ARB).  The ARB, chaired by Ambassador Thomas Pickering, proposed 29 policy changes to minimize risks faced by America’s diplomats and U.S. facilities overseas, all of which the State Department says it has adopted and is in the process of implementing.  The legislation also approves $118 million for the National Endowment for Democracy, a slight increase over current sequestered spending but nearly 15% above the FY14 request.

For three International Affairs accounts, H.R. 2848 proposes reductions compared with the FY14 request.  Contributions to International Organizations (CIO) would fall by $173 million (-11%), Contributions to International Peacekeeping Activities (CIPA) are cut by $153 million (-7.3%), and Educational and Cultural Exchanges would drop by $28 million (-5%).  When the Committee files its report on the bill, it may explain the reason for these cuts.  Meanwhile, it is likely that the reductions for CIO partially involves the $73 million request for UNESCO, a contribution that would require a legislative waiver of a prohibition on U.S. support for UN agencies granting member status to the Palestinians. The CIPA reduction likely relates to the Committee applying the 25% percent legislative cap on contributions across the account, eliminating funding for a potential Syria peacekeeping mission – since no mission has been approved – and removing funding for UN Support Office for the African Union’s Somalia peacekeeping mission.  Congress’ preference the past several years has been to fund the mission out of Peacekeeping Operations, a different account that does not fall under the scope of H.R. 2848.  The request for this contribution totals $136.6 million.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee hopes to take up a companion authorization bill in September or October.  If so, it would move the prospects another step further to enacting the first State Department authorization measure since 2003.

2.    Senator Paul Amendment to End Aid to Egypt Soundly Defeated

Last Wednesday, while considering the FY14 Transportation and Housing Appropriations bill, the Senate rejected an amendment offered by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) to cut all aid to Egypt.  The Senate voted to table the amendment 86-13.  Several Senators went to the floor to speak in strong opposition to the amendment, including Senators Bob Corker (R-TN), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), John McCain (R-AZ), Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Marco Rubio (R-FL).  Senator Paul was the only Senator to speak in support of his amendment.  This was his sixth attempt since taking office in 2011 to cut U.S. foreign assistance, with all previous amendments similarly rejected in a strongly bipartisan vote.

3.   Senator Markey Assumes Chairmanship of Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Foreign Assistance 

The departure of Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last month in order to join the Senate Finance Committee has triggered a shuffle of subcommittee chairmanships.  Of particular note is that Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) has relinquished his chairmanship of the International Development and Foreign Assistance Subcommittee and taken over as chairman of the Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs Subcommittee, previously headed by Senator Casey.  Recently elected Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) has assumed chairmanship of the International Development and Foreign Assistance Subcommittee.  Senator Markey was very supportive of International Affairs issues during his service in the House, consistently voting against amendments to cut the International Affairs Budget and supporting efforts to ensure robust International Affairs funding.

4.    Update on International Affairs Legislation

Water for the World Act

On August 1st Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced the Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act of 2013 (H.R. 2901) with 12 bipartisan cosponsors.  The bill modifies the 2005 Water for the Poor Act to improve coordination and implementation of water, sanitation, and hygiene programs in U.S. foreign assistance.  It would elevate coordinator positions within the State Department and USAID and set transparency guidelines for sustainable, country-focused programs, including publishing information on water and sanitation programs and conducting regular evaluations against published metrics.

Global Food Security Act

Reps. Betty McCollum (D-MN), Jim McGovern (D-MA), and Aaron Schock (R-IL) introduced the Global Food Security Act (H.R. 2822) on July 25th with ten cosponsors.  The bill calls for a comprehensive strategy to strengthen agricultural development and improve nutrition and farm-to-market capacity, as well as appoints a Special Coordinator for Food, Nutrition, and Agricultural Development.  More than thirty humanitarian NGOs – including many USGLC members – expressed their support for the legislation.

Electrify Africa Act

House Foreign Affairs Committee Members Reps. Ed Royce (R-CA), Eliot Engel (D-NY), Karen Bass (D-CA), and Chris Smith (R-NJ) introduced on June 28th the Electrify Africa Act of 2013 (H.R. 2548) with five bipartisan co-sponsors.  The bill calls for a comprehensive strategy to increase access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa and encourages the Administration to use existing programs and tools to prioritize electrification investments, with a goal of providing first-time access to electricity for 50 million people by 2020.  The bill would also authorize the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) through 2016.  The emphasis on trade agencies and public-private partnerships mirrors the President’s Power Africa initiative – announced during President Obama’s Africa trip in June – that commits the U.S. to doubling access to power in sub-Saharan Africa.

In introducing the bill, Chairman Royce said, “United States efforts in Africa should promote reliable energy access in sub-Saharan Africa in order to power economic growth and improve lives. This legislation will help remove one of the biggest impediments to economic growth on the continent, which will create trade opportunities – and jobs – in Africa and the U.S.”  Ranking Member Engel highlighted the bipartisan nature of the bill, saying, “I look forward to working with Chairman Royce to move this bill forward and with the Obama Administration to ensure that the people of sub-Saharan Africa have the electric power they need to help pull themselves out of poverty.”

Transparency and Accountability Act

The Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act (H.R. 2638 and S. 1271), introduced last month by House Foreign Affairs Committee Members Reps. Ted Poe (R-TX) and Gerry Connolly (D-VA) and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Members Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ben Cardin (D-MD), continues to garner strong bipartisan support on Capitol Hill.  The legislation, which would codify and expand the Foreign Assistance Dashboard and require the Administration to set interagency guidelines for U.S. foreign assistance programs – including metrics for monitoring and evaluation, has nearly 20 cosponsors in the House and several cosponsors in the Senate.  Committee markups of both bills are anticipated as early as next month.

5.   Outlook for FY14 Appropriations

Congress is now on recess until the week of September 9th, having made little progress on advancing the FY14 appropriations bills through both chambers.  Of the 12 appropriations bills, 10 have passed out of the House Appropriations Committee and four have been approved by the House.  The Senate has passed 11 out of Committee but none have been approved by the full Senate.  Both the House and Senate have approved the State-Foreign Operations Appropriations bills out of committee.

When Congress returns from the five-week recess, all focus will be on the need for a Continuing Resolution (CR) to prevent a government shutdown when the new fiscal year begins on October 1st.  Other important matters that could be wrapped into these negotiations are the need to increase the debt ceiling to prevent default (by sometime in November) and the desire to replace sequestration’s cuts with alternative budget savings or potentially – but far less likely – a larger “grand bargain” budget deal.

With only nine days in September when both the House and Senate are in session together, time is very tight and passing a clean CR of any duration faces several hurdles.  The first challenge is agreeing on the overall funding level.  Current FY13 sequestered spending is $988 billion, and Senate Democrats and House Republicans are nearly $100 billion apart in the top-line discretionary spending level they are using for FY14 ($1.058 trillion vs. $967 billion).

In a telling display of frustration with the discretionary spending level House appropriators are grappling with this year, which necessitates deep cuts to most programs, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) last week blasted the decision by House leaders to pull from floor consideration the Transportation-HUD Appropriations bill.  “With this action, the House has declined to proceed on the implementation of the very budget it adopted just three months ago,” Rogers stated. “Thus, I believe that the House has made its choice: sequestration — and its unrealistic and ill-conceived discretionary cuts — must be brought to an end.”  He went on to declare that “the House, Senate and White House must come together as soon as possible on a comprehensive compromise that repeals sequestration, takes the nation off this lurching path from fiscal crisis to fiscal crisis, reduces our deficits and debt, and provides a realistic topline discretionary spending level to fund the government in a responsible – and attainable – way.”

Further complicating adoption of a CR is the funding of the Affordable Care Act.  Twelve Senate Republicans, including Senators Mike Lee (R-UT), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Ted Cruz (R-TX), have said they will oppose any CR that does not defund the health care law.  A similar move is being pushed in the House by several Republicans.

Some hope for a CR agreement and sequester replacement is provided by the top-level discussions underway between senior Administration officials and some Senate Republicans.  White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough has been leading meetings over the last few months with a group of eight Senate Republicans, including Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Bob Corker (R-TN), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), and Johnny Isakson (R-GA), to discuss a way out of the budget impasse.  Undoing sequestration with other budget savings, potentially as part of a larger budget deal, is a primary focus.

A short-term CR (30 to 90 days) that would give Congress and the White House more time to forge a compromise on the sequester (and raising the debt ceiling) is the most likely scenario.  That said, a government shutdown in early October is not out of the question.  Signaling the disparate views among congressional Republicans of the best path forward, Senator Ted Cruz last week downplayed the harm of a shutdown: “There are some Democrats, some in the media, even some Republicans, who portray a shutdown as… a horrible calamity. I think the term ‘shutdown’ is a misnomer. It’s actually a partial, temporary shutdown. We have seen them before. The world didn’t end.”