The Cable

Obama threatens to veto spending bill

President Obama has officially threatened to veto the continuing resolution funding bill now being debated in the House if it contains drastic cuts to national security, but it remains unclear if large cuts in diplomacy and foreign aid programs would be enough to force White House action. The bill would fund the government from March ...

President Obama has officially threatened to veto the continuing resolution funding bill now being debated in the House if it contains drastic cuts to national security, but it remains unclear if large cuts in diplomacy and foreign aid programs would be enough to force White House action.

The bill would fund the government from March 4, when the current continuing resolution expires, until the end of fiscal year 2011 on Oct. 1. The House Republican leadership’s version would cut $11.7 billion, or 21 percent, from the president’s 2011 budget request for the State Department, USAID, and foreign operations, as well as $16 billion from the Defense Department’s fiscal 2011 request.

"If the President is presented with a bill that undermines critical priorities or national security through funding levels or restrictions, contains earmarks, or curtails the drivers of long-term economic growth and job creation while continuing to burden future generations with deficits, the President will veto the bill," the Office of Management and Budget said in its statement of administration policy on the bill, issued on Tuesday.

House Republicans have promised to slash non-security related discretionary funding this year and next. They define security-related funding to include the budgets of the Defense Department, Homeland Security, and Veterans Affairs. Congressional Democrats argue that the State Department and foreign aid funding should also fall under the rubric of security-related funding.

"Despite broad agreement that U.S. national security is supported by a three-legged stool of defense, diplomacy, and development, this bill dramatically weakens diplomacy and development," House Appropriations State and Foreign Ops subcommittee ranking member Nita Lowey (D-NY) said on the House floor on Tuesday.

"Especially given the ongoing developments in Egypt, throughout the region, and around the world, drastic cuts, including to democratic governance, alternative development options, international financial institutions, conflict mitigation and reconciliation, disaster assistance, and global health priorities, would significantly impede our ability to achieve our security objectives," she said.

The White House’s policy statement directly criticized the cuts to the Defense Department budget, which it said, "would reduce funding for the Department of Defense to a level that would leave the Department without the resources and flexibility needed to meet vital military requirements."

But the statement made no reference to the cuts in State Department or foreign aid funding. In a background conversation with The Cable, an administration official declined to specify whether the cuts to diplomacy and development funding would elicit a presidential veto, but the official did criticize the cuts as unhelpful.

However, the official cautioned that the funding bill still has a long way to go through the legislative process and will be changed on the House floor, in the Senate, and then perhaps again in a conference session before reaching the president’s desk. Between now and then, there will likely be many lawmakers and officials working to roll back cuts to development and diplomacy.

"The season is just starting," the official said.

 Twitter: @joshrogin
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