It's US foreign aid budget season again in Washington

The U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. The U.S. State and Foreign Operations appropriations bills will now go to the full appropriations chambers committees for a vote in both chambers. Photo by: Stephen Melkisethia / CC BY-NC-ND

U.S. State and Foreign Operations appropriations bills, which fund foreign assistance and development programs, were approved in both the House and Senate appropriations subcommittees on Tuesday and will now go to the full appropriations committees for a vote in both chambers.

The House bill provides $48 billion for state, foreign operations and related programs. That total is $277 million less than U.S. President Barack Obama’s fiscal year 2015 request, and a $708 million reduction on the enacted fiscal year 2014 level.

On the other hand, the Senate proposal also allocated $48 billion for international programs, but of this total, $8.6 billion resides in the account for Overseas Contingency Operations, which fund programs in “frontline” states like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and some Arab Spring countries — compared to $6 billion in the House bill.

Some foreign aid advocates have spoken out against the Senate’s decision to put more money into OCO, arguing that since OCO spending is slated to decrease over the next several years as U.S. military operations draw down in those “frontline” states, shifting money into these accounts puts foreign affairs budgets at risk in the long-term.

Debate surrounding the bills’ approval was minimal on Tuesday, since lawmakers will wait until the proposals are scrutinized by the full appropriations committees before attempting to attach amendments to them.

There were hints, though, of a few sticking points that could resurface.

For instance, the House bill includes cuts to U.S. Agency for International Development operative expenses, which Ranking Member Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) said could “adversely impact staffing, erode technical and managerial excellence on complex development programs at a time when such leadership is needed most.”

While the House subcommittee’s bill reduces spending somewhat from Obama’s budget request, it boosts funding for global health programs, which have garnered broad bipartisan support since former President George W. Bush created the Presidential Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief in 2003.

“[Obama] proposed cuts to maternal and child health as well as HIV and AIDS,” Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX) said in her opening statement. “This bill prioritizes these efforts and reinforces this subcommittee's commitment to eradicating polio, saving the lives of children, and continuing treatment for those living with HIV.”

The House bill also provides additional funding for former Soviet countries in light of the geopolitical and security concerns raised by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s incursion into Ukraine.

Granger noted her continuing concerns about Afghanistan and emphasized the importance of “enhancing requirements on oversight” at the same time the bill “continues to reduce the civilian presence and assistance programs” in the country. But exactly how the U.S. Congress will strike that balance — especially given that a reduced civilian presence will likely entail greater reliance on third-party and remote monitoring in Afghanistan — remains an open question.

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About the author

  • 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.