As pointed out by the Council on Foreign Relations’ Micah Zenko, the House Appropriations Committee last night voted to approve a $5.8 billion cut to the operations and aid budget for the State Department. While the bill would still need to be passed by the Senate and signed by the president (both are far from likely, and the Senate of course has its own funding bill), the vote still is a marker laid down by a Congressional leadership that seems determined to roll back U.S. participation in—and support of—multilateral, peacebuilding, and humanitarian support.
As reported by The Hill’s Julian Pecquet and Erik Wasson, the bill (formally State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Bill, 2014) cuts $10 billion off the Senate’s version, and represents an almost 20 percent cut to the overall State Department budget (by contrast, in April of this year, newly confirmed Secretary of State John Kerry promised a 6 percent cut). The article quotes Representative Hal Rogers (R-KY), committee chairman, as saying that, in an effort to bring down the deficit while not causing “irreparable harm” to U.S. foreign policy, they only reduced programs the committee felt were “wasteful, ineffective, lower-priority, or just plain unnecessary.”
A line-by-line parsing of the cuts, however, reveal that the chairman may be bending the definition of low priority. Contributions to international organizations were slashed by nearly a $1 million, with peacekeeping contributions reduced by $400,000. While the nominal figures may seem small, the peacekeeping assessment, for example, is 20 percent off of the State Department's initial request, and the total international organizations is a 36 percent discount over the 2014 request. While the United Nations is often stymied by great power competition on the Security Council, the Secretariat and UN agencies, like the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, the United Nations Children’s Fund, or the World Health Organization, play critical roles in pursuing a secure, healthier, and more prosperous world. Development assistance programs come in for cuts at 60 percent.
What the House bill does fund effectively is security measures to reinforce embassies, consulates, and missions abroad, a clear response to the tragedy of the attack on the U.S. Mission in Benghazi, Libya. Total embassy security was increased by close to $1 million over the previous fiscal year’s enacted total, with worldwide security upgrades of over $900,000, balanced by a $100,000 cut in educational and cultural exchange programs.
Clearly, the budget, as currently envisioned, protects diplomats—but does a disservice to diplomacy. Unfortunately, in the current political environment, reversing these cuts, to say nothing of expansion of funding, seems like mere wishful thinking. Another debt ceiling fight is due at the end of this summer, and the 2014 midterm elections will not likely end the kind of budget dissonance that suggests that the only thing sacrosanct in a budget fight is the current tax rate.