The Cable

Senate Budget Committee cuts foreign aid request despite pleas from everybody involved

The Senate Budget Committee approved a resolution Thursday that cuts the foreign affairs budget by $4 billion, to the chagrin of everyone else involved in the foreign affairs budget debate.

"Our objectives in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq and the civilian component of our national security strategy depend on a strong budget and these cuts are an enormous mistake," Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry, D-MA, said in a statement, "In this difficult budget climate, we all have to make tough choices, but the international affairs account is a smart, cost-effective investment that should be funded appropriately.  Short-changing these programs delivers very little budget relief at enormous cost to our global efforts and America's leadership in the world."

The U.S. Global Leadership Coalition has compiled the letters calling for a robust foreign affairs budget on its website, which included signatures from over 150 representatives and 31 senators.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates wrote to Senate Budget Committee chairman Kent Conrad, D-ND, on Wednesday calling on him to fully fund the administration's $58.5 billion request for State and USAID for fiscal 2011.

"I believe that full funding of these two budget accounts is necessary for our national security and for ensuring our continued leadership in the world," Gates wrote.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote to Conrad on Tuesday to point out that the increases requested are relatively modest and go mostly to supporting the increased State and USAID role in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Full funding in FY11 will allow us to continue making tangible progress in securing the hard fought gains achieved in Iraq, and to continue supporting and deploying hundreds of civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan to help stabilize dangerous but improving situations," she wrote.

The budget request still has many twists and turns to go through before it finally comes out on the other side of the legislative process. The House appropriations committee is expected to mark up its appropriations bill in May. And while it's possible appropriators could restore funds, that's going to be a difficult sell in a year where the fiscal outlook is not good and the political focus is on domestic problems.

"We're going to be a strong an advocate as we can be, but with 10 percent unemployment, urgent needs at home, a trillion-dollar budget deficit, and focus on creating jobs, there is no doubt that these factors make it a difficult political environment for expanding our foreign assistance and development budgets," Rep. Nita Lowey, D-NY, the chairwoman of the House Appropriations State and Foreign Operations subcommittee, told The Cable in February.

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