The Cable

The entire State Department budget is exempted from the spending freeze … almost

There's going to be some resistance to exempting the entire foreign-affairs budget from President Obama's promise to freeze all "non-security relations discretionary spending" for three years, as he declared in his State of the Union speech.

The fact that all of what's known as the "150 account" would fall outside the freeze was reported by The Cable earlier this week, prompting deep sighs of relief from professionals throughout the aid community. But then in a town-hall meeting, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seemed to contradict that idea, warning about a coming fight over the State Department's operations budget.

"It's anticipated that tomorrow the president will announce in the State of the Union a request for a three-year freeze on domestic spending. Thus far, he's exempted foreign aid, but not State operations," Clinton said Tuesday. "So we really have to work hard to make the case ... So I think we have a strong argument and equity on our side, but I can't stand here today and guarantee to you what's going to happen in this budget process. So we're going to fight as hard as we can. We've been extremely successful in the last year and we're just going to redouble our efforts and try to make sure that we maintain that equitable posture going forward-- in perpetuity."

So what was Clinton talking about? Are there parts of the State Department budget that will be frozen?

The Cable ran it down for you, and yes, there is exactly one section that will be frozen. The International Boundary and Water Commission, which according to its website promotes cooperation in managing shared water resources and the boundary between the U.S. and Mexico, will fall under the freeze, according an official from the Office of Management and Budget.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley confirmed that the commission is the only part of the state budget that isn't exempted from the freeze because it doesn't fall under the 150 designation. That makes up 0.002 percent of the overall foreign affairs budget, he said.

What Clinton was talking about, according to Crowley, was the acknowledgement that some on Capitol Hill will object to the entire foreign-aid budget being exempted and the need for the secretary and other officials to make the case for continued increases in those accounts.

"She's gratified that the president sees the State Department budget as part of the national security budget, that's exactly how she sees it," said Crowley, adding, "She also recognizes that we're going to have to fight for that in Congress and we have to do our part to defend why this money is crucial to the national security effort as the budget makes its way through Capitol Hill."

Still, it seems like Clinton was under the impression that more of the State Department operations budget wasn't exempted. Perhaps that was the thinking and then the White House decided to exempt the full State Department budget at the last minute? Tough to know for sure.

The budget release is Monday.

The Cable

The State of the Union on Foreign Policy - Translated

Barack Obama touched on some foreign policy issues in his State of the Union speech, eventually, toward the end, for a couple of minutes. Here are the important excerpts:

On export controls:

We need to export more of our goods.  Because the more products we make and sell to other countries, the more jobs we support right here in America.  So tonight, we set a new goal:  We will double our exports over the next five years, an increase that will support two million jobs in America.  To help meet this goal, we're launching a National Export Initiative that will help farmers and small businesses increase their exports, and reform export controls consistent with national security.

Translation: Yes, we realize Republicans are going to raise hell over loosening export regulations, but we're willing to take the hit on the national security side of the ledger to score economic points.

On trade:

We have to seek new markets aggressively, just as our competitors are. If America sits on the sidelines while other nations sign trade deals, we will lose the chance to create jobs on our shores. But realizing those benefits also means enforcing those agreements so our trading partners play by the rules. And that's why we will continue to shape a Doha trade agreement that opens global markets, and why we will strengthen our trade relations in Asia and with key partners like South Korea, Panama, and Colombia.

Translation: We are going to keep saying we are all for Free Trade Agreements but everybody knows there's no bandwidth on Capitol Hill for that before the elections. So I'll mention here some countries so no one say I can forgot about them. Maybe a good WTO case would make us seem active on the trade front. Just my luck, it'll be against China. Oy vey.

On Afghanistan:

In Afghanistan, we are increasing our troops and training Afghan Security Forces so they can begin to take the lead in July of 2011, and our troops can begin to come home. We will reward good governance, reduce corruption, and support the rights of all Afghans - men and women alike. We are joined by allies and partners who have increased their own commitment, and who will come together tomorrow in London to reaffirm our common purpose. There will be difficult days ahead. But I am confident we will succeed...  in the last year, hundreds of Al Qaeda's fighters and affiliates, including many senior leaders, have been captured or killed - far more than in 2008.

Translation: If you add more troops and spend more money, you can kill more bad guys. Whether or not that can convince Karzai to get his act together, who knows. Either way, we're getting the heck out of there next year one way or the other, unless things are going so bad that it would look like a retreat.

On Iraq:

As we take the fight to al Qaeda, we are responsibly leaving Iraq to its people. As a candidate, I promised that I would end this war, and that is what I am doing as President.  We will have all of our combat troops out of Iraq by the end of this August. We will support the Iraqi government as they hold elections, and continue to partner with the Iraqi people to promote regional peace and prosperity. But make no mistake:  this war is ending, and all of our troops are coming home.

Translation: I'll go ahead and take credit for the one problem that seems to be resolving itself. Phew.

On Nukes:

To reduce our stockpiles and launchers, while ensuring our deterrent, the United States and Russia are completing negotiations on the farthest-reaching arms control treaty in nearly two decades. And at April's Nuclear Security Summit, we will bring forty-four nations together behind a clear goal: securing all vulnerable nuclear materials around the world in four years, so that they never fall into the hands of terrorists.

Translation: We'll get a START follow on agreement, don't you worry. But we're setting low expectations for the rest of the arms control agenda. CTBT? Fissile material treaty? Meaningful NPT review conference? Not this year.

On North Korea and Iran:

These diplomatic efforts have also strengthened our hand in dealing with those nations that insist on violating international agreements in pursuit of these weapons.  That is why North Korea now faces increased isolation, and stronger sanctions - sanctions that are being vigorously enforced.  That is why the international community is more united, and the Islamic Republic of Iran is more isolated. And as Iran's leaders continue to ignore their obligations, there should be no doubt: they, too, will face growing consequences.

Translation: Man, neither the Norks nor the Mullahs seem to want to actually improve relations. Hm, maybe it's in their interest personally to have bad relations with the U.S.? Yikes, I better rethink this.

On China, the Middle East, the overall global fight against Islamic extremism, Sudan, human rights, cyber security, the Dalai Lama, and Guantanamo Bay?

Nothing.                

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