The entire State Department budget is exempted from the spending freeze … almost

The entire State Department budget is exempted from the spending freeze … almost

There’s going to be some resistance to exempting the entire foreign-affairs budget from President Obama’s promise to freeze all "non-security relations discretionary spending" for three years, as he declared in his State of the Union speech.

The fact that all of what’s known as the "150 account" would fall outside the freeze was reported by The Cable earlier this week, prompting deep sighs of relief from professionals throughout the aid community. But then in a town-hall meeting, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seemed to contradict that idea, warning about a coming fight over the State Department’s operations budget.

"It’s anticipated that tomorrow the president will announce in the State of the Union a request for a three-year freeze on domestic spending. Thus far, he’s exempted foreign aid, but not State operations," Clinton said Tuesday. "So we really have to work hard to make the case … So I think we have a strong argument and equity on our side, but I can’t stand here today and guarantee to you what’s going to happen in this budget process. So we’re going to fight as hard as we can. We’ve been extremely successful in the last year and we’re just going to redouble our efforts and try to make sure that we maintain that equitable posture going forward– in perpetuity."

So what was Clinton talking about? Are there parts of the State Department budget that will be frozen?

The Cable ran it down for you, and yes, there is exactly one section that will be frozen. The International Boundary and Water Commission, which according to its website promotes cooperation in managing shared water resources and the boundary between the U.S. and Mexico, will fall under the freeze, according an official from the Office of Management and Budget.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley confirmed that the commission is the only part of the state budget that isn’t exempted from the freeze because it doesn’t fall under the 150 designation. That makes up 0.002 percent of the overall foreign affairs budget, he said.

What Clinton was talking about, according to Crowley, was the acknowledgement that some on Capitol Hill will object to the entire foreign-aid budget being exempted and the need for the secretary and other officials to make the case for continued increases in those accounts.

"She’s gratified that the president sees the State Department budget as part of the national security budget, that’s exactly how she sees it," said Crowley, adding, "She also recognizes that we’re going to have to fight for that in Congress and we have to do our part to defend why this money is crucial to the national security effort as the budget makes its way through Capitol Hill."

Still, it seems like Clinton was under the impression that more of the State Department operations budget wasn’t exempted. Perhaps that was the thinking and then the White House decided to exempt the full State Department budget at the last minute? Tough to know for sure.

The budget release is Monday.