House bill would impose huge cuts on State and USAID

House bill would impose huge cuts on State and USAID

The House will mark up a funding bill for the State Department and foreign operations Wednesday that would cut the international affairs budget by billions and restrict U.S. involvement in a host of international organizations.

The House Appropriations State and Foreign Ops subcommittee, led by Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX), unveiled its fiscal 2012 appropriations bill today in advance of tomorrow’s markup. The bill would provide State and USAID with $39.6 billion in discretionary funding next year, which is 18 percent, or $8.6 billion, below the fiscal 2011 level. The fiscal 2011 level, which was reached as part of a deal to avoid a government shutdown in April, was already $8 billion less than originally requested by the Obama administration. The State Department did move about $3.5 billion from its regular budget to a new "Overseas Contingency Operations" account for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, so the apples-to-apples reduction is closer to $5 billion.

Democrats on the committee and NGO leaders reacted with frustration at the bill’s cuts to dozens of State Department and foreign assistance programs, as well as its proposal to slash USAID operating expenses by more than a third.

"I am disappointed that the 2012 State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Act funds priorities that are critical to our national security and global leadership at inadequate levels, and includes divisive and partisan policy riders that are counter-productive to effective diplomacy and development," said subcommittee ranking Democrat Nita Lowey (D-NY) in a statement today. "At a time when the demands we place on our diplomatic and development workforce are increasing, it is short-sighted to downsize the Department of State and USAID."

House Appropriations Committee ranking Democrat Norm Dicks (D-WA) blamed the Republican leadership for not giving Granger enough total funds picture to properly support the development programs.

"Once again the Republican leadership has presented us with a completely inadequate subcommittee allocation that will reduce our influence overseas and damage the security of our nation," he said. "Core program funding in this bill… would mean layoffs at both the State Department and USAID."

The State and Foreign Operations appropriations bill usually enjoys wide bipartisan support, but this year will be an exception. House Democratic aides said that the bill was crafted in a way to satisfy GOP political priorities and without much consideration for comity or consensus across the aisle.

"The decision was apparently made that this would be a Republican bill," one House Democratic aide said.

For employees at State and USAID, the cuts could be particularly biting. The bill cuts the $1.35 billion USAID operations budget to around $900 million and would eliminate what’s known as "localization pay" for diplomats abroad, which would immediately bring down their salaries.

"We’re starting to see the kinds of cuts that will affect the ability of agencies to implement important tools of our foreign assistance and our foreign policy," said Mark Green, a former U.S. Ambassador to Tanzania and currently senior director at the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition. "We understand that every part of the government is on the table, but what we’re looking at here is a very small part of the budget taking significant cuts."

The administration had requested $51.2 billion for State and USAID for fiscal 2012, but nobody is even discussing that number anymore, because the current debt crisis negotiations promise to change the amounts of funding available for all discretionary accounts.

The fluid fiscal situation also spells uncertainty for Granger’s bill, which could probably pass on the House floor but would face resistance in the Democrat-controlled Senate. But due to the debt crisis, the Senate isn’t planning to start work on appropriations bills until at least September, which doesn’t leave a lot of time to work with the House to come up with a compromise before the fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.

The policy riders in the bill include a reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy, which would ban federal funding for organizations that promote abortion. This was also added to the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s fiscal 2012 authorization bill, though that piece of legislation isn’t expected to become law either.

The bill would defund U.S. contributions to the U.N. Human Rights Council, cap U.S contributions to U.N. peacekeeping at 25 percent of the overall peacekeeping budget (which would put the United States in arrears), blocks U.S. contributions to the U.N. Population Fund, cut funding for programs meant to address climate change, restrict 30 percent of U.S. future contributions to the United Nations until it publishes all of its internal financial audits online (which isn’t likely), and rescinds already appropriated funds for the International Monetary Fund.

In a letter sent on Monday to Granger and Lowey, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce urged the committee not to cut funding for multilateral financial institutions or democracy-promotion programs abroad, both of which face cuts in the bill.

"The International Affairs budget and these agencies play a vital enabling role for U.S. companies to tap foreign markets and create jobs and prosperity at home," the Chamber wrote. "Although it represents less than 1.5% of the total federal budget, the International Affairs budget is critical to creating jobs, saving lives, protecting U.S. diplomats and embassies abroad, and fighting terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction."

The committee recommended funding the Overseas Contingency Operations account at $7.6 billion, which is technically $1.1 billion less than requested, but that is because about $1 billion of Pakistan counterinsurgency funding was transferred back to the Pentagon’s jurisdiction.

"This bill reforms and refocuses the way we spend our foreign aid. We have established tough oversight and accountability measures that will make sure my constituents’ tax dollars are not wasted overseas while making sure we support our national security priorities and key allies," Granger said in a statement. "In this difficult geopolitical and economic climate, the American people deserve policies that are based on our principles."