The Cable

Appropriators cut $8 billion from State Department programs

As part of the budget deal struck to avoid a government shutdown, the White House has agreed to reduce the State Department and foreign operations budgets for the rest of fiscal 2011 by $8 billion. Meanwhile, the fight over the president's fiscal 2012 budget is already underway.

White House senior advisor Dan Pfeiffer wrote on the White House blog that the administration had agreed to take $8 billion from the international affairs fiscal 2011 budget. "These significant cuts to the State Department and foreign assistance will mean we will not meet some of the ambitious goals set for the nation in the President's budget," he wrote. The details of those cuts were left to House and Senate appropriations staffs to work out, and were released Tuesday morning.

The biggest cut is to the State Department's Economic Support Fund, which will get $1.8 billion less than the president requested. The Millennium Challenge Corporation will see its fiscal 2011 request reduced by $380 million and contributions to the U.N. and other international affairs organizations will be reduced by $304 million from the president's request.

House State and Foreign Operations ranking Democrat Nita Lowey (D-NY) praised the budget deal and said it was much better than the original bill (H.R.1) passed by the House Republicans, which would have cut the overall State and foreign operations budget by 16 percent.

"National security is a three-legged stool of defense, diplomacy, and development," Lowey said in a statement.  "H.R. 1 would have chopped two of these legs at the knees. I am pleased the agreement reached by the White House and Congressional negotiators would restore many of the ill-advised cuts passed by the House of Representatives in February."

Other programs that will lose large portions of their requested funding include the operating expenses for USAID ($122 million less than the request), the Civilian Stabilization Initiative (-$144 million), the office of the Global AIDS Coordinator (-$155 million), the Peace Corps (-$71 million), the International Clean Technology Fund (-$215 million), the International Strategic Climate Fund (-$185 million), and Worldwide Security Protection (-$61 million).

The United States Institute of Peace will be able to continue operating until the end of the fiscal year Oct. 1, facing only a $7 million budget cut.

The impact of these cuts on the respective offices is even more severe because the 2011 fiscal year is half over, meaning that the cuts must be made before the end of the fiscal year Oct. 1.

Meanwhile, the budget battle for next year is already heating up. If the GOP leadership has its way, the current State and foreign operations budget cuts are just the beginning. The Paul Ryan (R-WI) budget would reduce international affairs spending by 29 percent in fiscal 2012 from the president's 2011 request; the Republican Study Committee has already proposed the drastic defunding of USAID.

The actual bills for fiscal 2012 are being written over the next couple of weeks. As part of that process, the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee are tasked with sending their recommendations to their respective budget committee chairmen, to help them decide how much funding should be allocated to each part of the budget.

SFRC Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) sent his recommendations to Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) last month. His letter (PDF), obtained by The Cable, calls for fully funding the president's $53 billion fiscal 2012 request for international affairs.

"I realize that we are facing a very difficult budget climate with significant domestic economic challenges and rising federal deficits," Kerry wrote. "But at this moment we can ill afford not to invest critical resources in support of our foreign policy priorities."

Last month, we brought you the documents submitted by House Foreign Affairs Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), which called for the elimination of over a dozen State Department and foreign aid programs. She pledged to fight "locality pay" increases for Foreign Service officers and recommended cutting off assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces, the West Bank and Gaza, the Asia Foundation, the U.S. Institute of Peace, and the East-West Center.

Kerry defended funding for those institutions specifically. "Curtailment of preventive diplomacy initiatives today could well necessitate more costly responses in the future to regional conflict and humanitarian crises," he wrote.

The Cable

Briefing Skipper: Gbagbo, Qaddafi, Syria, China, South Korea

In which we scour the transcript of the State Department's daily presser so you don't have to. These are the highlights of Monday's briefing by spokesman Mark Toner:

  • Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb at the State Department Monday, after which she commended the international community for creating the conditions which led to the arrest of former Ivory Coast former President Laurent Gbagbo. "This transition sends a strong signal to dictators and tyrants throughout the region and around the world: They may not disregard the voice of their own people in free and fair elections, and there will be consequences for those who cling to power," Clinton said.
  • Clinton also talked about Libya and said there were several "non-negotiable" terms for any settlement there, including a ceasefire, a pullback of Qaddafi forces from occupied cities, the resumption of basic services and access for humanitarian assistance. Clinton said it is also the policy to seek the ouster of Muammar al Qaddafi from power. In the briefing, Toner said Qaddafi's removal was also "a non-negotiable demand."
  • The unofficial U.S. envoy to the opposition Chris Stevens remains in Benghazi, where he has been now for about a week. "He continues to talk to the TNC leadership. He's talking about the political structure, as well as what other needs they might have," Toner said. The opposition is making progress, according to Toner. "Now this group is coming together. They're evolving. And, you know, we're still assessing," he said.
  • The Turks are helping the U.S. government get information on two American journalists who have been detained in Libya, James Foley and Clare Morgana Gillis, but Toner had no progress to report. "We're limited in what we can do in Libya right now except to make public appeals," he said.
  • As for Syria, Toner said the State Department does not have a clear picture of what's happening on the ground in terms of protests and government violence due to restrictions on the media, after dozens were reportedly killed over the weekend. "We call on Syrian authorities to refrain from any further violence against peaceful protesters, as well as arbitrary arrests. And we also urge them to allow this free flow of information that will allow -- that will permit the international community to better follow in fact what's going on on the ground there.
  • Chinese State Councilor Liu Yandong is in Washington this week leading a high level delegation for discussions at the State Department. The timing is a little awkward because the State Department last Friday released its country reports on human rights that spoke of the worsening behavior of the Chinese government. But Toner defended the report. "We are candid in our exchanges with China about human rights concerns both from the podium and in our private meetings with them. And certainly we don't regard it as an interference in our internal affairs when any foreign government or individual organization monitors our human rights practices," he said.
  • South Korean chief nuclear envoy Wi Sung-lac is coming to the State Department Tuesday and will meet with both Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, Deputy Secretary Jim Steinberg, Ambassador Stephen Bosworth, and Special Envoy Sung Kim.
  • Clinton will leave Wednesday for Berlin where she will attend an information NATO foreign minister's meeting and a memorial service for Richard Holbrooke at the American Academy in Berlin. She'll go on to Seoul April 16 and 17 and meet with President Lee Myung-Bak and then travel to Tokyo for one day and meet with Prime Minister Naoto Kan and Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto.