The top U.S. aid official has been visiting key lawmakers on Capitol Hill to quell the increasing appetite for development aid cuts and solicit support for a robust U.S. foreign affairs budget ahead of the 2012 appropriations cycle, which is set to begin this month with the release of President Barack Obama’s budget request.
Congress appears increasingly hostile to aid reforms and budget expansions following a Republican takeover of the House of Representatives in January that was fueled by election wins of conservative lawmakers backed by the Tea Party movement. The annual appropriations round will start after the White House releases its 2012 budget proposal on Feb. 14.
The White House’s budget proposal is expected to reflect a five-year spending freeze announced by Obama in his Jan. 25 State of the Union address. This spending freeze will likely spare the country’s foreign affairs budget, according to a U.S. official.
>> Obama’s Spending Freeze to Spare Foreign Affairs Budget, Says Official
With Republicans bent on implementing deep spending cuts, U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Rajiv Shah and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would surely face a tough fight, at least in the House, when they testify to defend the plans for their agencies amid calls from conservative Republicans to defund USAID.
USAID Administrator Shah met with Democratic Sens. Robert Casey of Pennsylvania and Richard Durbin of Illinois Feb. 1. Both senators are members of the Foreign Relations Committee and known supporters of administration plans to beef up USAID capacity.
Casey, who chairs the Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs subcommittee of SFRC, recently joined some of his congressional colleagues in slamming a proposal by Republican Sen. Rand Paul to eliminate U.S. foreign aid to Israel.
Durbin, who is also the assistant Senate majority leader, has led bipartisan efforts to increase funding for the global initiative to eradicate AIDS, particularly for efforts led by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
Shah met freshman Sen. John Boozman of Arizona Jan. 31. Boozman, a former congressman, was among the new Republican senators who, according to the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, could provide “a narrow, but important window of opportunity” for the Obama administration’s foreign policy and a robust international affairs budget.
The USAID administrator met twice (Jan. 6 and 13) with Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the ranking member of the House Budget Committee, which is responsible for writing the chamber’s U.S. budget blueprint each fiscal year.
Van Hollen has shown support for funding U.S. engagements overseas. He voted in favor of the supplemental appropriations for fiscal 2010, which included aid for Haiti, in July 2010. More recently, Van Hollen voted against House Resolution 38, which seeks to set nonsecurity spending levels, including the foreign affairs budget, at fiscal 2008 levels.
The resolution was approved by the Republican-led House in a Jan. 25 vote. It would still need to pass the Senate, which is controlled by the Democratic Party, and be signed by President Obama before becoming enacted as law - an unlikely prospect.
Shah met Jan. 6 with Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs. Granger has supported aid legislation in the past but is also a known supporter of the balanced budget amendment, a proposal that would mandate the federal government balance its budget and restrict Congress from spending more money than the U.S. government takes in.