Obama’s Budget Short on Details, Leaving Time for Politicking

President Barack Obama wants to spend $51.7 billion on State Department and other international operations next year. Funding for the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Millennium Challenge Corp. are included in this amount, although it is unclear how much the White House wants each to receive.

What is known from a fiscal 2010 budget overview released today is that Obama is eager to keep his promise to put the United States "on a path to double foreign assistance" - a pledge Obama made on the campaign trail. What this means is anyone's guess. Technically, Obama could add one dollar to the foreign assistance budget and the United States would be on the path to doubling assistance, but the increase is likely to be more substantial - Obama said his budget contains funding for USAID foreign service officers.

Obama also pledged to start new initiatives to improve access to education in poor countries, improve global food security, and expand the size of the Peace Corp. He vowed to increase funding for global health programs that combat HIV/AIDS through PEPFAR (like MCC, a Bush creation) and malaria.

What does the budget overview tell us? Not much. For instance, it does not mention MCC at all. But this should not in any way serve as a signal on the Obama administration's thoughts on the agency: The overview is disappointingly absent of detail, it doesn't tell us much we didn't already know.

However, the lack of publicly-released detail gives interested parties some time to politick for their pet causes. Perhaps Reps. Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO) will push Congress to include provisions from their food bill in the budget. Same for Sens. Richard Lugar (R-IN) and Robert Casey (D-PA), who recently reintroduced their Global Food Security Act.

Finally, the delay between the release of the overview and the more detailed budget gives MCC more time to make its case to Congress. The House and Senate have already cut the agency's funding in the 2009 fiscal omnibus, which is making its way through Congress this week. The agency is expected to address the looming cuts at a March 11 event in Washington, D.C. No doubt MCC officials will also be working behind the scenes on Capitol Hill to make the case that their work should continue and that its funding should not fall victim to further cuts.

About the author

  • David Francis

    David is a Washington-based journalist and former Devex staffer who spearheaded Devex's "Obama's Foreign Aid Reform" blog. He has written for the Christian Science Monitor, Pittsburgh Post Gazette, SportsIllustrated.com, San Francisco Chronicle, Foreign Policy magazine, and the Washington Monthly. David holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Chicago and a graduate degree from Georgetown University.