Where does foreign aid stand in the US budget battle?

Barbara Mikulski, chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations and Hal Rogers, chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations. The U.S. House of Representative appropriations committee is set to approve on Wednesday the budget bill for fiscal 2014. Photos by: Shirley Li / Medill DC and Steve Beshear

The U.S. House of Representative appropriations committee is expected to approve on Wednesday the $40.6-billion state and foreign operations budget bill that includes America’s foreign aid spending.

The proposal includes painful cuts to some foreign aid programs and multilateral contributions that amount to about $10 billion less than the Senate’s version passed on Tuesday at subcommittee level. 

This disagreement over how to fund the U.S. whole bureaucracy and its aid programs next year, D.C. insiders worry, will follow the same trend as in past years: another budget reenactment, another continuing resolution.

The Senate’s version is closer to the fiscal year 2013 reenacted budget levels and President Barack Obama’s fiscal year 2014 request of $52 billion, based on data from the Senate and U.S.-based NGO coalition InterAction.

The House proposal, on the other hand, is about $11 billion lower than the fiscal year 2013 post-sequestration continuing resolution. Because of these drastic cuts, some U.S. aid partners have preferred to pass another continuing resolution than work around the House version.

Another continuing resolution?

Etching a compromise deal that would somewhat narrow down extreme proposals from the Republican-dominated House and Democrat-controlled Senate is the way to go under a normal budgeting process.

That, of course, is easier said than done.

Fighting over U.S. foreign assistance rests on a far bigger battle that is the whole federal budget.

The House wants Americans pay the political cost of taming the ballooning budget deficit by stuffing in the calculation the across-the-board spending cuts. So the House proposes to spend $967 billion with the sequestration cutbacks.

However, the Senate prefers to spend $1.056 trillion without spending cuts.

Agreement on global health

While they differ in pet projects and ideologies, Republicans and Democrats seem to agree on how much to set aside for global health programs.

The House proposes $8.175 billion, while the Senate offers $8.315 billion.

Both houses of Congress heed to Obama’s request to allot $4.332 billion for bilateral HIV/AIDS programs, according to estimates from the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition.

Obama requested to provide $1.65 billion for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and $175 million for the GAVI Alliance. The House and Senate propose the same appropriations.

Senators and congressmen give different budgets for programs on malaria, tuberculosis, nutrition, pandemic influenza, polio, family planning, and neglected tropical diseases, and that is where the consensus seems to end.

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Senators are more generous than representatives in pouring in aid money to the Millennium Challenge Corp., development programs, humanitarian relief efforts and contributions to international financial institutions and organizations, among others.

The House gives zero allotment for the international organizations and programs account, while the Senate provides $355 million, according to its own data.

This account is where United States gets its contributions to U.N. agencies like UNICEF, UNDP, UNFP, UNHCHR, UNEP, and other specialized groups.

If the House had its way, contributions to the United Nations, affiliated agencies and many others are pegged at $746 million, but the Senate wants a figure of $1.45 billion.

Senators want to give about $3.2 billion to international financial institutions like the World Bank’s International Development Assistance. House representatives propose $2.05 billion lower.

Cutbacks may further squeeze declining budgets received by the U.N. and other multilateral groups amid the global fiscal crunch. Reduced contributions, meanwhile, may mean waning U.S. influence on development banks where shareholdings determine voting rights.

Humanitarian, development assistance

Owing to the desperate humanitarian situation in Syria and other parts of the world, the Senate places $4.5 billion for humanitarian assistance. This is about $1.6 billion lower than what House thinks of global humanitarian needs for the next fiscal year.

Humanitarian assistance could have been bigger had Congress proposed to place Obama’s ambitious food aid program into the foreign aid budget. The president wants to funnel the money out of the restrictive Food for Peace and then place it into the more flexible programs of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Development assistance  the account which funds projects on democracy, rule of law, water, clean energy and others – is another case of the House and Senate’s differing priorities.

The House provides $2 billion, but the Senate adds $500 million more.

MCC, an agency which has traditionally been receiving bipartisan support, gets mixed funding proposals — the House wants $197 million less than the Senate’s offer of $899 million.

As U.S. lawmakers speed up budget deliberations before they take a break this August, the fate of fiscal year 2014 spending hangs in the balance.

The Senate, in its press release announcing the approved FY 2014 SFOPs budget, sums up the divided Congress: “The House allocation for SFOPs is $40.6 billion, which is $10 billion below the Senate level. The differences are stark. Almost no account or program escapes unscathed in the House bill.”

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About the author

  • John Alliage Morales

    As a former Devex staff writer, John Alliage Morales covered the Americas, focusing on the world's top donor hub, Washington, and its aid community. Prior to joining Devex, John worked for a variety of news outlets including GMA, the Philippine TV network, where he conducted interviews, analyzed data, and produced in-depth stories on development and other topics.