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Budget fight delays Senate Libya debate indefinitely

The Senate voted late Tuesday afternoon to delay any debate on the Libya war until after the ongoing budget debate. And if the government shuts down on Friday, that debate could be delayed much longer.

Freshman Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) forced the Senate to take a vote on his non-binding amendment expressing the Senate's opposition to the Obama administration's decision to go to war in Libya. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) didn't want a Libya debate to halt progress on the small business bill that was on the floor, so he convened a vote to table the Ryan amendment. Reid's vote to table the amendment passed overwhelmingly, 90-10. Ten GOP senators actually voted against delaying a vote on Paul amendment, signaling that they are firmly opposed to the president's Libya policy or at least want the debate to happen now.

In an exclusive interview with The Cable, Paul said that he considered the vote to table his amendment as tantamount to a vote on the war itself.

"It's exactly the same thing," said Paul. "It's either you want to consider it or you don't want to consider it. Obviously if you vote to table it you disagree with the resolution. The implication isn't very subtle. We won't get a direct vote because [the Senate leaders] don't want to take the vote, so you get an indirect vote."

Paul's amendment essentially calls on senators to approve or disapprove then-candidate Obama's 2007 statement to the Boston Globe, in which he asserted, "The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation."

"It embarrasses [Senate leaders] because it uses the president's exact language," Paul said. "But it divides our caucus too. Half of our caucus believes in no limitation on war-making...and I strongly disagree with that. Either you believe there needs to be Congressional authority for war or you don't."

The ten GOP senators who voted against tabling the Paul amendment were Susan Collins (R-ME), Jim DeMint (R-SC), John Ensign (R-NV), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Mike Lee (R-UT), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Pat Toomey (R-PA), and Paul himself.

One senior Republican who is adamantly opposed to the Libya war but did not vote for the Paul amendment was Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican Richard Lugar (R-IN). In an interview with The Cable, Lugar said that the budget debate was preventing the Senate from taking up the Libya debate.

"We're so consumed with the budget debate, whether the government is going to close down, there's almost no audience in the caucus for the time being," he said. "In terms of an effective parliamentary gesture, this is preempted for the foreseeable future."

Lugar said Paul has a good point about congressional authorization but noted that several senators, including Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), John Kerry (D-MA), and John Cornyn (R-TX), are working on ideas on how to express Congress' view on the Libya war.

Lugar said Congressional confusion about its right to authorize the war is a separate issue from lawmakers' demands that the administration present clear objectives for the Libya intervention and detail a plan for the mission going forward.

"This has been going on for weeks. We are moving along day after day spending money... everyone assumes that we know in the back of our minds that Qaddafi must go but that is not the stated objective, nor is there really any plan whatsoever as to what will be done in the aftermath," Lugar said. "Literally, the drift continues."

In an interview with The Cable, Cornyn said he agreed with the plan to delay the Senate Libya debate for now because the Senate needed to move on more pressing business.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told The Cable in an interview that the Libya resolution was discussed at the GOP caucus lunch meeting on Tuesday, but there were still several ideas being tossed around.

"The worst thing would be if we take up a resolution and it fails," Graham said, adding that he wants the final language to explicitly call for regime change in Libya. "We're going to have to sit down and see where our Democratic colleagues are at."

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The Cable

Ryan budget would slash international affairs funding, increase defense spending

The long-term budget announced on Tuesday by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) would cut the budget for international affairs and foreign assistance by 29 percent in 2012 and 44 percent by 2016 -- while increasing the defense budget by 14 percent over the same timeframe.

Ryan's 85-page plan, "The Path to Prosperity," doesn't discuss diplomacy or development at all, but sets topline limits for international affairs (known as the 150 account) in the tables at the end of the report that drop off dramatically from current levels in fiscal 2012 and keep going down from there. Ryan recommends a total international affairs budget of $37 billion in fiscal 2012, gradually declining to $29 billion by fiscal 2016 -- a reduction of 44 percent from what the president requested for fiscal 2011. Ryan didn't include any details on what programs should be cut.

Ryan's proposal would increase the budget for national defense (the 050 account) $22 billion to a total of $583 billion in fiscal 2012 and would provide defense increases each year, leading to a $642 billion defense budget in 2016.

The House Appropriations State and Foreign Ops subcommittee is responsible for filling in those details over the next couple of weeks as they write their fiscal 2012 appropriations proposal, the first draft of next year's spending legislation. That document will be the basis of what are sure to be protracted and grueling fights over the State Department and USAID budgets throughout the summer and fall.

The House also passed a spending bill that would cut the State Department's fiscal 2011 budget by 16 percent compared to the president's request, a step that USAID administrator Rajiv Shah said would kill 70,000 children. The negotiations over that bill are going on right now, in an attempt to head off an April 8 government shutdown.

House Appropriations State and Foreign Ops Chairwoman Kay Granger's office didn't have an immediate response to the Ryan proposal. Granger (R-TX) supports cutting the international affairs budget, as does her counterpart on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL).

But Democrat leaders on these committees, as well as top officials in the diplomatic and development communities, were appalled by Ryan's proposal.

"It's a reckless proposal that would endanger Americans here and abroad and severely weaken U.S. global leadership," Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on State Department and Foreign Operations, told The Cable.

The Ryan proposal "sets a new standard for recklessness and irresponsibility," House Foreign Affairs ranking Democrat Howard Berman (D-CA) said in a statement. "Cuts of this magnitude would harm U.S. exports and kill American jobs, force the U.S. to abdicate our moral responsibility to help those most in need, and essentially cede the playing field to China in many parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America. They would also severely curtail U.S. efforts to promote human rights, democracy and free markets -- which will lead to more instability, and ultimately, greater costs for U.S. taxpayers."

House Appropriations State and Foreign Ops ranking Democrat Nita Lowey (D-NY) said that she would fight the proposal. 

"Cutting international affairs spending on this scale would put our nation at higher risk of terrorism, hamper our ability to achieve vital security objectives, and result in a retreat from our leadership role in the global community," she said in a statement. "It is senseless to respond to a fiscal challenge by creating a national security emergency."

The development community is arguing that gutting diplomacy and development harms national security, a point that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Shah have also made repeatedly.

"While everyone agrees we need to get our fiscal house in order, we must protect our national and economic security in the process," said U.S. Global Leadership Coalition Chairman Dan Glickman. "Military leaders from General Petraeus to Admiral Mike Mullen are adamant that International Affairs programs are a critical part of our national security. These very deep cuts can hamstring our ability to effectively respond to the global challenges we face today."