House committee approves foreign aid budget in late-night session

The meeting room of the United States House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations. Photo by: HouseAppropsGOP

On Wednesday, the United States House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations approved a U.S. foreign affairs budget bill that would cut funding to the State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development, and other international agencies and organizations by $10 billion.

The prolonged “markup” debate, which lasted until just before midnight, gave representatives a chance to propose and debate amendments to the State and Foreign Operations budget bill that had passed through a House subcommittee last week. Nearly all the amendments aimed at restoring funding or rolling back policy restrictions — most of them offered by minority Democrats — were defeated.

Now that the appropriations committee has approved the budget bill, it can move to the full House of Representatives for a vote.

Democrats objected to the overall funding level set out in the House budget allocation. They took issue with cuts to U.S. foreign assistance programs and U.S. contributions to international organizations that this bill would require. They also argued against the expansion of a law that prohibits funding to organizations that provide access to — or even information about — abortions as a means of family planning, the so-called Mexico City Policy or “global gag rule.”

“It is unconscionable to tie up $8.8 billion in global health assistance by inserting abortion politics,” said Rep. Nita Lowey, the ranking Democrat on the committee, who offered an amendment to remove what she called the “particularly egregious” language.

The expanded “global gag rule” would prevent U.S. global health funding to any organization that failed to produce an anti-abortion policy, even those working on unrelated issues. “What does child blindness have to do with reproductive health? Nothing,” she said.

A number of Democrats introduced other amendments that would restore funding to agencies and organizations shouldering a large share of cuts under the House budget proposal.

Rep. Barbara Lee, a Democrat from California, proposed an amendment that would restore U.S. contributions to United Nations agencies. Florida Rep. Wasserman Schultz argued for funding the Global Environment Facility, and Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger from Maryland proposed to fund the World Bank’s International Development Association at the level proposed by President Trump, which is a higher allocation than the committee bill.

In many of these cases, committee chairman and Kentucky Republican Hal Rogers pointed to the difficult tradeoffs required to implement a $10 billion cut to foreign affairs spending, and to the Congress’ desire to send a message to international organizations.

“All multilateral organizations need to be put on notice that we have to examine, line by line, their allocations,” Rogers said.

In addition to its expansion of the “global gag rule,” the House budget bill proposes to cut funding for family planning by $146 million — a significant reduction, but a far cry from the Trump administration’s proposal to eliminate international family planning funds altogether.

The House also maintained a Trump administration proposal to prohibit funding to the United Nations Population Fund, a prohibition Lowey’s unsuccessful amendment sought to lift.

PAI, an organization that advocates for family planning programs and has been sharply critical of White House policy and budget proposals, decried the House budget committee’s decision to cut funding and endorse the expanded “global gag rule.”

“This action demonstrates Republican’s full endorsement of President Trump’s attacks against women. If enacted, the harmful cuts to aid — in addition to the global gag rule and denying funding to UNFPA — will have a devastating impact on health services around the world and undercut decades of U.S. global health leadership,” Jonathan Rucks, PAI’s advocacy director, wrote to Devex.

Rep. Lee also proposed an amendment to restore funding for family planning, which she offered in honor of Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, UNFPA’s former executive director, who died suddenly last month. “An ‘aye’ vote in honor of a great human being,” she said.

In response to Democrats’ concerns about restructuring proposals that the Trump administration has reportedly considered for its foreign aid and diplomacy agencies, Rogers pointed to a provision in the budget bill that prohibits any reorganization of the State Department until the Secretary of State submits a report detailing any plans to the committee.

“There are all sorts of rumors about what agency’s going to be moved or changed … and we know nothing,” Rogers said in response to one such amendment. “Hold your horses,” he urged.

House trims World Bank funding

U.S. contributions to the World Bank would take a hit if the House budget plan becomes law. Funding for the World Bank’s International Development Association was a surprise casualty, facing roughly 50 percent cut to just under $660 million.

The IDA fund, which provides concessional financing to the poorest countries, escaped relatively unscathed in the Trump administration’s latest draft budget, which proposed $1.1 billion for the fund, a relatively modest trim from the $1.3 billion agreed under the Obama administration. The same budget blueprint had proposed overall cuts of 35 percent to all multilateral development banks.

Rogers explained that one intention behind the reduction to IDA funding was to give the foreign affairs authorizing committees a chance to review the program and the benefits of U.S. contributions to it. His remarks implied that funding might be increased down the road.

The Global Environment Facility, a trust fund administered by the World Bank, would have access to $102 million under the House proposal, the same amount as the Trump administration requested and $45 million less than 2017. The bill never mentions the GEF by name, but the committee report explains that money would be allocated to the facility on a project basis, subject to approval by the committee. Rep. Wasserman Schultz described GEF's funding in this bill as, "hidden behind an extremely difficult bureaucratic process that effectively defunds the program."

The World Bank’s International Bank for Reconstruction and Development is also absent from the bill, losing out on the $6 million it received in 2017 from the U.S. government. The Global Agriculture and Food Security Program, also administered by the World Bank, looks to be zeroed out under the bill. It received $23 million under the Obama administration for 2017. U.S. contributions to these programs are made periodically as needed, not annually.

The move comes after some experts and former U.S. Treasury officials said they were cautiously optimistic that World Bank relations with the Trump administration appeared to be on a good footing, especially after the announcement of a new World Bank women’s empowerment financing facility which was heavily championed by the President’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, as Devex reported.

Far from final?

A World Bank spokesperson said the bill is the “beginning of a long process” in terms of finalizing allocations to the multilateral development bank. They also pointed out that “IDA contributes to greater stability and progress around the world,” and said the institution will “continue to work with the U.S. administration and Congress to maintain support for the World Bank’s programs to fight poverty and increase opportunity in developing countries.”

Analysts agreed that some cuts are unlikely to pass the Senate. A 50 percent reduction to IDA funding is unlikely to be supported, according to Paul Cadario, distinguished fellow at the University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs and a retired World Bank senior manager. The bank, he said, “has always had more friends in the Senate.”

While the IBRD would be relatively unaffected by the $6 million cut, Cadario said the cuts to the GEF and GAFSP would be bad news for “two important global programs that enjoy wide international support and yield results.”

Scott Morris, senior fellow at the Center for Global Development and director of its U.S. Development Policy Initiative, described the House funding levels as “very troubling” though unlikely to pass in the final legislation.

“[It] shows that there's a branch of government even less multilateralist than the Trump administration,” he said.

Morris warned the overall forecast for the World Bank and other multilateral development banks looks grim under the current administration. Even if the Senate does increase the World Bank’s allocation from the figure agreed by the House, Morris said the “bigger worry” is that Senators could still fail to restore funding levels to the multilateral development banks more broadly, which are set to receive a 20 percent trim in core funding under the Trump budget proposal.

The best outcome for the World Bank would be a continuing resolution, Morris said. Though even this could cause complications, since certain contributions, such as U.S. funding to IDA, require authorizations, which he said would be unlikely to be included.

“With China offering the rest of the world new options for MDB financing through the [Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank], it's a particularly bad time for the U.S. to be dramatically scaling back its support for the World Bank [and other multilateral development banks],” Morris said.

Update, July 21, 2017: This article has been updated to clarify that the Global Environment Facility would have access to funding under the House budget bill, though Democrats argued the bill would “effectively” defund the facility. The article has also been updated to clarify that IBRD and GAFSP receive periodic, not annual, replenishments.

What's the future of U.S. aid and development policy under the Trump administration? Read Devex news and analysis and subscribe to The Development Newswire.

About the authors

  • Igoe michael 1

    Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.
  • Edwards sopie

    Sophie Edwards

    Sophie Edwards is a reporter for Devex based out of Washington D.C. and London where she covers global development news, careers and lifestyle issues. She has previously worked for NGOs, the World Bank and spent a number of years as a journalist for a regional newspaper in the U.K. She has an MA from the Institute of Development Studies and a BA from Cambridge University.