Trump's Budget Grasps What Congress Doesn't: America's Global Leadership Doesn't Come Free

Capitol at sunset. Flickr/Creative Commons/Dustin Gaffke

Congress should use Trump's budget to reform the State Department and foreign-assistance programs.

President Donald Trump released his detailed budget proposal for fiscal year 2018 this week. As expected, it includes significant cuts to the International Affairs Budget that funds the State Department, foreign assistance and international organizations such as the United Nations.

Reactions have been predictably dire. While budget reductions of this size will inevitably cause disruption, the reception has been overwrought. This is the first step in budget negotiations, so it’s far too early for alarm. Congress will have its say.

But it would be wise to seize this opportunity to implement long-overdue reforms to modernize the State Department and foreign-assistance programs and confront looming budgetary constraints that threaten future funding for defense, diplomacy and foreign aid.

So what, exactly, does President Trump’s budget propose on international affairs? Overall, according to the FY 2018 Congressional Budget Justification (CBJ) for the Department of State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs, the International Affairs Budget would be cut by $18.9 billion to a FY 2018 total of $40.1 billion. This is a cut of 32 percent versus the FY 2017 estimate.

This sounds like a big cut, and it is. But it should be put in perspective. The foreign-assistance budget nearly tripled under the George W. Bush administration, from $9.1 billion in 1999 to $26 billion in 2008, and the State Department budget more than doubled. These budgets swelled further under the Obama administration.

Trump’s budget proposes is, in dollar terms, roughly a return to FY 2008 levels—i.e., to reverse the dramatic increases adopted under the Obama administration. Specifically:

• In FY 2008, the overall International Affairs Budget was $40.9 billion, including emergency supplemental funding for the global war on terror. President Trump’s budget request allocates $40.1 billion to this purpose.

• In FY 2008, the Administration of Foreign Affairs received $8.99 billion, including the supplemental. President Trump’s budget request allocates $9.92 billion to this purpose.

• In FY 2008, the Foreign Operations Budget was $27.8 billion, including the supplemental. President Trump’s budget request allocates $27 billion to this purpose.

• The USAID operations budget was $930 million in FY 2008, including the supplemental. President Trump’s budget request allocates $1.4 billion to this purpose.

Bilateral Economic Assistance was $16.9 billion in FY 2008, plus an additional $3.4 billion in the supplemental. President Trump’s budget request allocates $16.8 billion to this purpose.

Within the FY 2018 high-level budget numbers, some programs are hit harder than others. Assistance to Israel, Jordan and Egypt are maintained. The budget also provides funding to meet commitments to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, GAVI, and “sufficient resources to maintain current commitments and all current patient levels on HIV/AIDS treatment under the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and maintains funding for malaria programs.”

In contrast, funding for family planning and reproductive health is zeroed out. This shouldn’t come as a big surprise, considering the Trump administration’s decision to reinstate and strengthen the Mexico City policy. Likewise, funding for climate-change initiatives is largely eliminated. Bilateral assistance would also be reduced or, for some countries, cut entirely, in service of prioritizing U.S. interests. The Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency would both be wound down—actions that Heritage analysts have recommended.

The budget also proposes cutting contributions to international organizations and peacekeeping operations significantly below FY 2008 levels. Trump’s budget allocates $2.19 billion to these accounts, which received $3.5 billion in FY 2008. In particular, the budget for International Organizations and Programs, which funds popular organizations, such as UNICEF, and more questionable ones, such as the UN Development Program, would be eliminated, although the State Department has clarified that “some organizations that were previously funded under IO will still receive partial funding through different accounts.”

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