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Bipartisan call for Senate to maintain U.S. foreign affairs budget

United States Embassy Apia, Samoa. (Credit: Flickr)

Politicians, activists and NGO leaders are collectively pressing for the U.S. foreign affairs budget to be spared any cuts. It comes ahead of Thursday’s Senate Appropriations Committee release of its spending levels for fiscal year 2017. There is a good chance the budget could be trimmed in the proposal, so a concerted effort is underway to avert any spending reductions.

The leaders argue that the U.S. State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Peace Corps are crucial to U.S. foreign policy as the world faces challenges like the Islamic State, the refugee crisis and the spread of the Zika virus. It is a rare instance where people with varying interests and political affiliations are joining together on a single issue.

The White House request of $54.1 billion is $400 million less than last year’s, and is 12 percent less than the peak foreign affairs spending in 2010. Each year the White House proposes slight cuts to the budget, and Congress has pushed back to mostly maintain spending levels.

The main concern is that needs are increasing around the world, requiring more resources from the U.S. Cuts to the budget would potentially hamper the ability of the country to respond adequately.

“We can’t retreat from the world. Our own national security depends on us being engaged,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, in a statement. “I’m the guy who wants to kill off the terrorists, but I also realize that is a limited way to win this war long-term. In some cases, educating a young girl will do more to win this war than dropping any amount of bombs.”

Graham serves as the chairman of the state-foreign operations appropriations subcommittee, providing direct oversight into the foreign affairs activities of the government. Fellow committee member and long vocal supporter of U.S. foreign aid is Sen. Patrick Leahy. Despite being political opponents on many other issues, he joined Graham by also making the case that an active and well-supported international engagement can both advance U.S. interests and do good in the world.

And then there is the letter from 16 former Senators, notably including former majority leaders Bill Frist and Tom Daschle, calling for the protection of the foreign affairs budget. Much like the case with Graham and Leahy, the group represents a spread of the two main political parties. Their concern is particularly focused on issues facing the Middle East, and they “fear the United States is not keeping pace with these growing challenges.”

Yesterday, the state-foreign operations appropriations subcommittee held hearings regarding the need to provide humanitarian aid as a way to combat violent extremism. Rockstar and ONE co-founder Bono testified before the committee and echoed Graham’s recent call for a new “Marshall Plan” to provide assistance in the Middle East. It harkens back to the policy used by the U.S. to support countries trying to rebuild following World War II.

“The humanitarian system is faced with a dilemma: while the numbers of people forcibly displaced across the world continue to rise, the funds available for humanitarian aid are not keeping up with the rapidly expanding needs,” said Kelly T. Clements, deputy high commissioner for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, in her testimony to the subcommittee.

“The challenges facing the world today, resulting in a historic number of people on the move, underscore the importance of the principles of international refugee protection and international human rights and humanitarian law to keep people safe.”

The federal budget has been ground zero for partisan battles in the legislative branch of the U.S. government. Thursday’s proposed budget must also be confirmed by Congress, which would give foreign affairs supporters another shot to stave off budget cuts. But the diversity and level of the effort is significantly bigger than in recent years – a likely signal that the Senate appropriations committee will announce some reductions.


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]