Clinton calls for unified national-security budget

Clinton calls for unified national-security budget

President Obama’s new National Security Strategy, first published on The Cable, talks clearly about the need to integrate what the administration dubs the three pillars of national security: defense, development, and diplomacy. In her remarks officially debuting the strategy today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged to fight to integrate their budgets as well.

That’ll be fun to watch on Capitol Hill.

"We have to start looking at a national-security budget," Clinton said at the Brookings Institution Thursday. "We cannot look at a defense budget, a State Department budget, and a USAID budget without defense overwhelming the combined efforts of the other two, and without us falling back into the old stovepipes that I think are no longer relevant for the challenges of today."

Clinton made all the usual arguments for why State needs more money, including the need to be present everywhere and the increased role diplomats and civilian advisors are playing in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. She also pointed out that even top Pentagon leaders are arguing for full funding of the State Department’s budget request, which faces a lot of congressional scrutiny this year in light of the constrained fiscal and economic atmosphere.

But her open push for one unified budget for all three agencies is new, and Clinton presented it as a way to get out of the annual ritual of Foggy Bottom trying to out-lobby the all-powerful military folks across the Potomac while also defending State’s budget from lawmakers eager to steer funds to domestic programs.

"We want to begin to talk about a national security budget … so it won’t be the case where we go to make the case to our appropriators and DOD goes and makes their case to their appropriators," she said, acknowledging that entrenched interests would likely oppose such a move. "There is resistance in our government and there is resistance in the larger communities … they are afraid of the idea that we are actually going to be better integrated. I think that is an incredibly short-sighted view."

Clinton said the split budgets are too easy for both the White House and Congress to play games with, and accused her husband’s administration, whose budget shop was run by her current deputy, Jack Lew, of doing just that.

"Part of the reason I brought [Lew] in is because I knew when Jack headed OMB during the Clinton administration, State would come in with their budget, and AID would come in with their budget, and OMB would always play them off of each other," she said. "It was the easiest thing in the world to get money out of the 150 account [the international affairs budget]. They would come in and say ‘Oh no, diplomats!’ and then ‘Oh no, development!" and OMB would go, ‘Great, take it and give it to someone else.’ We are trying to avoid that."

Although Clinton’s open support of a unified national-security budget is new, the idea is not. Leading experts have been pushing the concept for a while. The Project on National Security Reform, led by James R. Locher III, proposed just that. In a sad tale, this very proposal led to the defunding of the entire organization, because the late Rep. John Murtha stripped the group of all its money out of fear his jurisdiction over the defense budget could be affected.

That’s the kind of resistance that has kept the idea from being adopted until now. But with Clinton’s endorsement, it could take on a new momentum.

"I think it’s a great idea," said Larry Korb, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and a former assistant secretary of defense. "If you send it up as one top line number, Congress can’t cut one without the other. Until you do that, Congress will just continue to take funds away from foreign aid."