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2017 Appropriations: State-Foreign Operations

Prospects appear dim for the Obama administration to get everything it asked for in its fiscal 2017 spending proposal for foreign aid and diplomatic operations.

The State Department wants nearly $52.8 billion in mandatory and discretionary spending for the State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development and other foreign aid programs, a small change of plus or minus approximately $100 million from current levels, depending on different estimates of enacted spending levels. The State-Foreign Operations request has come under criticism by lawmakers and aid advocates for continuing to shift money out of the base budget into Overseas Contingency Operations, a war funding account that is not capped. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee with oversight over foreign aid spending, is also dubious about the administration’s plans to reduce funding for humanitarian-related programs by $1.5 billion, a 19 percent reduction from current levels.  

Graham is pushing for a significant plus-up to the amount of humanitarian funding that the United States provides for refugees, particularly to those Syrians living in Jordan as well as large sums of money for development programs to help Middle Eastern countries provide improved social services to citizens and refugees alike. But with the Appropriations Committee setting a topline amount for the State-Foreign Operations bill of $52.1 billion in base budget and Overseas Contingency Operations funding, Graham is hoping to get an emergency supplemental aid bill passed, since he is otherwise looking at a cut of approximately $600 million to his annual foreign assistance bill.  

“The committee did the best they could,” Graham says. “The allocation was probably the best we could do, given all the distress on the budget and the topline numbers.”  

There appears little chance the House’s foreign aid spending bill will be more generous than the Senate’s. Topline numbers for the former are due to be announced later this spring. In March, the House Budget Committee recommended a deep cut of nearly $14 billion in total budget authority for the international affairs account, which also includes money for the Agriculture Department’s Food for Peace program. Traditionally, the Senate has been more generous on foreign aid than the House and the chambers resolve their spending level differences in conference committee talks.  

The foreign aid measure is also typically one of the more divisive spending bills that Congress takes up because of partisan disagreements over policy riders routinely offered on issues related to climate change and abortion.  

Republican Kay Granger of Texas, chairwoman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on foreign aid, has criticized the administration’s fiscal 2017 spending proposal because it includes increases for climate-change-related programs, such as the Green Climate Fund, which helps developing countries, while proposing decreases in spending on basic education initiatives and humanitarian assistance. “Unfortunately, once again, the budget proposes to sacrifice congressional priorities for administration initiatives,” Granger says.  

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