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."

The Cable

Lugar holding up State Department funds for Tunisian democracy

The State Department wants to shift resources toward supporting civil society development in Tunisia, but the top senator on the Foreign Relations Committee is refusing to allow State to transfer money away from an education program in the Middle East for that purpose.

In the wake of the democratic revolutions sweeping the region, the State Department is rapidly trying to reevaluate its approach to Middle East democracy promotion. But without a budget for fiscal 2011, and with no idea of what awaits their budget in fiscal 2012, State is being forced to move money around to speed funds to the Arab countries that are trying to make the difficult transition to democracy.

Three weeks ago, the State Department's Middle East Partnership Initiative sent Congress what's known as a "congressional notification," requesting permission to shift $29 million in funds from other programs in the region. State wants to shift $20 million to democracy promotion efforts in Tunisia and around the region. Another $7 million would go supporting rule of law and political development programs in the Middle East. $1 million would go to youth councils in Yemen.

In order to fund these initiatives, $10 million would be taken away from the "Tomorrow's Leaders" program, which provides scholarships for Arab youth to attend college at three U.S.-accredited universities in the Middle East.

Three powerful GOP congressional offices initially objected to State taking the funds away from the "Tomorrow's Leaders" program. The lawmakers holding up the money were House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), House Appropriations State and Foreign Ops Chairwoman Kay Granger (R-TX), and Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican Richard Lugar (R-IN).

The Cable confirmed on April 1 that the three committee members had placed "informational holds" on the reprogramming request. That means they sent additional questions back to State about why the money was being taken from the universities, whether State had tried to find the money elsewhere, and whether another source of the money could be found.

On April 4, Ros-Lehtinen and Granger's office told The Cable that they had lifted their holds, but still thought the State Department's request lacked detail.

"State's original justification for the reprogramming was vague, and additional information was requested," said Ros-Lehtinen spokesman Brad Goehner. "As soon as the information was provided, Chairman Ros-Lehtinen authorized the funds to go through."

"We had some outstanding questions about how the State Department was making its reprogramming decision and we now feel those questions have been addressed," a Granger aide told The Cable.

That leaves Lugar's office as the only one keeping the funds from being disbursed. Lugar spokesman Mark Helmke told The Cable that Lugar is unhappy with how State is dealing with the overall regional response, not just this specific reprogramming request.

"Senator Lugar continues to have a number of questions about the administration's strategy for the upheavals across North Africa and the greater Middle East," said Helmke. "Lugar is concerned the administration is just reacting to events without a plan on where we are going. Democracy building in Tunisia is a good thing. But so are scholarships. How does this re-programming affect other projects in Egypt and elsewhere? The lack of a clear end game strategy for Libya, and the refusal to gain congressional authority, only add to Lugar's concerns."

A Lugar committee staffer told The Cable that Lugar would allow State to move enough money to fund the Tunisia program, but not all the programs in the request. Lugar will also not allow, for now, State to take the money from the educational program.

"We are doing due diligence on this, it's pretty routine, making sure they are not robbing Peter to pay Paul, or rushing money out the door without a solid plan," the staffer said. "If [the educational program] is the only place to find money to respond to Tunisia, or to the many urgent needs in the Middle East and North Africa, the [State] Department should make that case."

The three universities that run the Tomorrow's Leaders program are the American University in Cairo, the American University in Beirut, and the Lebanese American University.

The American University of Beirut (AUB) is represented in Washington by William Hoffman, a registered lobbyist for the university who has been in contact with these GOP offices to make the case for defending the funds. According to the website Opensecrets.org, Hoffman's firm Gryphon International was paid $144,000 by AUB in 2010 and has been working for the university, its only client, for several years.

In an interview with The Cable, Hoffman confirmed he had been in contact with both Lugar and Granger's office recently to make the case for the education money.

"The issue is how do we best promote democracy building and sustainable economic development in the Arab world. People with very good intentions can disagree about the best way to do that, but it's certainly my feeling that you can hardly do better than to provide American-style education," Hoffman said. "There is a tendency in government to look at short- term, rather than long-term goals and in some cases that can be a mistake."