Lowey: State Department budget faces a “difficult political environment”

Lowey: State Department budget faces a “difficult political environment”

It will be an uphill climb for lawmakers defending the Obama administration’s $52.8 billion request for the State Department and USAID this year, according the House’s top foreign affairs appropriator.

"We’re going to be a strong an advocate as we can be, but with 10 percent unemployment, urgent needs at home, a trillion-dollar budget deficit, and focus on creating jobs, there is no doubt that these factors make it a difficult political environment for expanding our foreign assistance and development budgets," Rep. Nita Lowey, D-NY, the chairwoman of the House Appropriations State and Foreign Operations subcommittee, told The Cable in an exclusive interview.

She applauded the administration for proposing "robust increases" in the operating budgets for State and USAID, which include 600 and 200 new jobs, respectively. But she also noted that much of the increase comes from supplemental funding in light of the increased civilian role in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

While trying to accommodate the administration’s budget request, Lowey’s subcommittee will also be looking to make some changes to fit Congress’s priorities.

"I intend to ensure that education remains a pillar of our development assistance," she said. "I am currently in the process of evaluating the whole budget, looking at every account and looking for areas where we can get those dollars … It won’t be an increase in the topline."

As for Haiti, House appropriators are committed to making sure emergency funding gets where it’s needed, but when it comes to longer-term development and reconstruction assistance, that’s going to have to be balanced against other needs.

"There are so many places in the world that need our assistance and you’re always making judgments depending upon where you can do the least harm if you’re taking funding from other accounts," Lowey said. "This is why I’m saying that the future and reconstruction money has to be evaluated in the context of the other tremendous needs around the world."

The State Department is working with OMB to figure out the intermediate need for Haiti now.

Lowey praised the movement of $1.2 billion for the Pakistani Counterinsurgency Capability Fund from the Pentagon’s coffers to State, and said she had been assured that Foggy Bottom could handle the new responsibility. "I think it should be evaluated and funded in the overall context of our foreign policy," she said.

She also commended the White House for moving $100 million in development funding to the State Department, what used to be known as the "1207" account but will now be called the "Complex Crises Fund." Sure, the State Department didn’t get the "1206" foreign military assistance funding this year, but "I think we have enough to deal with," Lowey said.