The White House has indicated a desire to slash 37 percent of funding from the budget of the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, which currently has a combined budget of just over $50 billion.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) swiftly declared the proposal “dead on arrival” and said it would be a “disaster.”
“President Donald Trump is developing a federal budget that officials said would add more than $50 billion to the base defense budget. The increase would be made possible by significant cuts elsewhere, officials said on Monday, particularly to the State Department and its foreign aid division,” reports the Wall Street Journal.
“People familiar with the deliberations said the Trump administration is examining the growth in spending by the State Department during the Obama administration, including that caused by the addition of special envoys, though they said that would not cover the proposed cuts. One U.S. official said that the State Department is looking at development assistance to other countries as a significant source for the cuts,” the Journal adds.
Bloomberg Politics cites the White House Office of Management and Budget as the source of a proposed 37% cut to the State Department budget.
The Associated Press quotes officials who say there would be “deep cuts in spending for diplomacy and foreign aid programs,” while “development assistance would take the biggest hit.” Staff reductions would be required, “including security contractors at diplomatic missions abroad,” according to these sources.
Of course, one would expect officials associated with the State Department to advance the direst scenarios in response to a massive budget cut. It is the foreign service version of the “cops, firefighters, and teachers get fired first” defense advanced in response to all proposed spending cuts. The first dollar of budget reduction is always portrayed as coming from the most visible and essential services and personnel.
However, the White House proposal immediately met with some stiff resistance from Republicans in Congress, as well as the bureaucracy. The Wall Street Journal depicts Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Bob Corker as backing away from the idea immediately, saying it was only the beginning of budget negotiations.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell expressed opposition to cutting the State Department budget and predicted it would not pass the Senate.
The most aggressive pushback came from Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who said the proposal was “dead on arrival” because it “guts soft power and puts our diplomats at risk.”
“It’s not going to happen. It would be a disaster. When you take soft power off the table you’re never going to win the war,” Graham declared. “What’s most disturbing about the cuts to the State Department’s budget, it shows a lack of understanding of what it takes to win the war.”
Similar objections were raised by a group of retired military officers who wrote to leaders of both parties in Congress urging them to block the State Department cuts:
The State Department, USAID, Millennium Challenge Corporation, Peace Corps and other development agencies are critical to preventing conflict and reducing the need to put our men and women in uniform in harm’s way. As Secretary James Mattis said while Commander of U.S. Central Command, “If you don’t fully fund the State Department, then I need to buy more ammunition.”
The military will lead the fight against terrorism on the battlefield, but it needs strong civilian partners in the battle against the drivers of extremism– lack of opportunity, insecurity, injustice, and hopelessness.
Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) also seems opposed to cuts on the scale envisioned by the White House, although perhaps open to some less dramatic reforms. “Foreign aid is not charity,” he said on Twitter Tuesday morning. “We must make sure it is well spent, but it is less than 1% of the budget and critical to our national security.”
However, James Carafano of the Heritage Foundation told Bloomberg Politics there was plenty of Obama-era flab to be trimmed from the State Department: “If you look at the department’s budget, it has significantly ballooned since 2008 and all of that growth, outside of diplomatic security, is in Obama’s pet projects. So I can’t imagine why Tillerson has any commitment to go and defend all of Obama’s pet projects against the president who just put him in the job.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s position on the proposed cuts remains unknown for the moment, although a transition official indicated Tillerson “discussed the need to overhaul the department when he was interviewed for the job.”