The divisive political climate in Washington, especially over the federal budget, has seen attempts to cut the foreign affairs budget and foreign aid with it. The usual dance saw the White House and Senate, controlled by the Democrats, publish larger budgets as opposed to the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
This time around it is different. First off, the “Murray-Ryan” budget agreement means that there is $1.014 trillion in discretionary spending to carve out all of the government’s programs. That means that the House, Senate and White House are all allocating a little more than $48 billion for foreign operations.
However, there is one small wrinkle in the current budget proposals. For once, it is the House, not the Senate, that is on the same budgetary page as the White House on the State-Foreign Operations budget for fiscal year 2015.
While the totals are all the same, the Senate does not see eye-to-eye with its counterparts on how much of the $48 billion should be in the base budget and how much should be in discretionary spending.
“In addition to dealing with the top line spending cap, the Senate has to come up with an additional $4 billion,” explained Tod Preston, Director of Government Relations for the US Global Leadership Coalition (USGLC), to Humanosphere.
The gap is a result of a $4.3 billion revenue shortfall in the Federal Housing Administration’s mortgage program. Moving the base dollars into the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account helps deal with the problem.
The OCO does serve an important purpose. It replaced what used to be called the emergency supplemental budget. The flexible funding is the money that the US can draw from when emergencies arise. For example, the US response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti was funded through budgetary flexibility.
“The OCO has been a lifesaver,” said Preston. “Had it not been for the OCO, you would have seen even deeper cuts in the foreign affairs account to pay for the other parts of the federal budget.”
Preston says the action is concerning because spending that comes from OCO has declined in the past few years. A short term fix will help get past some present budgetary hurdles, but it puts the foreign affairs budget at risk of deeper long-term cuts.
“While OCO funds will mitigate the impact in the short term, another round of budget cuts to base programs is extremely dangerous to our security and economic interests,” said USGLC Executive Director Liz Schrayer, in a statement.
With the upcoming mid-term elections, it is likely that the big decisions will be made after they take place. Preston says that the main concerns are about the long term.