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US international affairs budget: Requested vs. actual

By Lorenzo Piccio20 February 2012

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Last week, the Obama administration unveiled its much-anticipated fiscal 2013 international affairs budget request. As reported by Devex, the $56.4 billion top line request was received with some mixed emotions, but generally the global development community in Washington and other parts of the world viewed it as practical and balanced. If signed into law, the 2013 international affairs budget request would represent a modest 2 percent increase over current spending levels.

Approximately $51.6 billion (91 percent) of the total would be set aside specifically for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development and their foreign aid programs. About $8.2 billion (16 percent) of the State and USAID budget would fund overseas contingency operations in support of civilian-led programs in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Unlike the rest of the international affairs budget, appropriations for overseas contingency operations do not count against spending caps established under last August’s last-minute debt deal.

Of course, many question marks remain and a lot can happen before a final international affairs budget reaches the president’s desk for signature. For readers unfamiliar with the intricacies of the U.S. budget process, the president’s request is the first step in what will undoubtedly be months of back-and-forth between the White House and Congress. While the first day of October marks the start of fiscal 2013, congressional Republicans may very well postpone signing off on the administration’s fourth budget until after the presidential elections in November.

Historical context is always important when assessing Washington budget processes and outcomes. (See the chart above for differences between requested and actual budgets during the Obama administration). Indeed, if the fate of President Barack Obama’s prior international affairs budgets is any indication, then the $56.4 billion top-line figure for fiscal 2013 is far from assured. For example, in advance of fiscal 2010 not even the president’s decisive majorities in both the House and Senate could shield the international affairs budget from a 7-percent cut. For fiscal 2011, in the wake of Republicans capturing the majority in the House, Congress slashed the president’s request by 14 percent. The 2012 international affairs budget request was actually one-tenth below the fiscal 2011 request. In the end, Congress enacted an international affairs budget 4 percent above the president’s request, but analysts say this increase was fueled primarily by additional appropriations for OCO as the Obama administration began to wind down military operations in Iraq and the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.

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About the author

Lorenzo Piccio

Lorenzo is a Devex senior analyst based in Manila. Our resident budget cruncher, Lorenzo spearheads Devex's in-depth reporting and analysis on global development finance and policy. He attended Wesleyan University in Connecticut on the Freeman Asian Scholarship, earning degrees in Government and Social Studies.

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