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Phew… International affairs budget exempt from Obama spending “freeze”

Phew… International affairs budget exempt from Obama spending “freeze”

The entire international affairs budget will be exempted from the spending freeze that President Obama will announce in his State of the Union speech Wednesday night.

When the news broke about the pending freeze, people in the aid community were worried that programs such as global health or food security initiatives might fall under  the "non-security discretionary funding" designation that makes programs subject to the freeze. But those programs are safe from this particular threat.

"The entire 150 account will be exempted," from the three- year freeze, Rob Nabors, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget said on a conference call Tuesday.

The “150 account” refers to the international affairs budget request, which will be the basis  for the State, Foreign Operations, and Related Agencies appropriations bill. This includes spending on global economic, diplomatic and humanitarian programs by the State Department, USAID, and the Millennium Challenge Corporation, among others.

Of course, foreign-aid programs could be cut anyway; there’s no guarantee. Or they could receive only modest increases due to the shift of Iraq and Afghanistan obligations into the foreign ops accounts. Most insiders expect that when the budget request comes out on Monday, the foreign affairs topline will look like a big increase, but non-war related accounts will get little new money.

On the larger picture, the freeze doesn’t mean all non-exempted departments will feel the pain. "Not every agency that is subject to the freeze is being frozen," Nabors said. He also brushed off the reservations of some lawmakers, who will surely want to test the boundaries of the freeze.

"I understand the appropriators’ initial reaction," said Nabors. "But there’s a lot of time before these bills start moving."