Will Congress 'starve' the 2013 foreign aid budget?

By Jenny Lei Ravelo 29 February 2012

The U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C. Photo by: Glyn Lowe Photos / CC BY-ND

There is notice from Capitol Hill regarding President Barack Obama’s 2013 foreign aid budget request: It is unlikely to be fully funded.

Senators heard U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday (Feb. 28) as she testified before the Senate Appropriations subcommittee and Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Clinton was making the case for the $51.6 billion budget request for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development. But Democrat Sen. Patrick Leahy from Vermont, who also sits as chairman of the subcommittee, told Clinton it is going to be difficult” to get a bill through this year, the Washington Post reports.

Clinton spoke of five budget priorities, including support for the democratic transitions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the $770 million Middle East and North Africa Incentive Fund. She also made note of America needing to maintain power in the Pacific by building stronger networks and relationships in the region.

In addition, the secretary discussed using diplomacy and development to create American jobs. She said America needs to make strategic investments today to meet its foreign policy goals in the future.

The budget request is likely to face opposition from lawmakers in coming months. While foreign aid is commensurate to the country’s national security and international interests — as history can prove in Colombia and South Korea — it has been a “frequent target” of budget-cutting lawmakers, notes The Foreign Policy Initiative.

Democrat Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts agrees. He said there are no global “Grover Norquists” pushing a pledge not to slash the State Department budget, nor millions of AARP seniors rallying to protect America’s investments overseas.

In an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal, Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said there is nothing “fiscally conservative” in starving the foreign policy budget today to spend a trillion dollars years later in armed conflict. He said all foreign policy initiatives and foreign aid programs account for only one-tenth of America’s annual military expenditure.

“We’ve got a tax code that spans more than 72,000 pages and a federal budget of $3.8 trillion — surely we can find enough tax loopholes to close and wasteful spending to cut in order to preserve the $57 billion required for our global investment,” Kerry said.

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About the author

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Jenny Lei Ravelo@JennyLeiRavelo

Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex senior reporter based in Manila. Since 2011, she has covered a wide range of development and humanitarian aid issues, from leadership and policy changes at DfID to the logistical and security impediments faced by international and local aid responders in disaster-prone and conflict-affected countries in Africa and Asia. Her interests include global health and the analysis of aid challenges and trends in sub-Saharan Africa.

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