The Cable

Levin: Defense cuts must be on the table

The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said on Tuesday that he agreed with the White House that cuts to the defense budget must be part of upcoming budget negotiations.

"Defense has to be on the table," Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) said in a Tuesday interview. "It means there should be some reductions in some parts of the defense budget. We haven't decided what those are yet, because it depends on a lot of things and it doesn't say how much those cuts should be, because that shouldn't be decided in the abstract."

Levin's comments track with those of Senior White House Advisor David Plouffe, who said on Sunday on ABC's "This Week" that, "We're going to have to look at defense spending."

Levin's Republican counterpart John McCain (R-AZ), said in a Tuesday interview that he strongly disagreed with Levin and that the efficiencies and savings put forth by Defense Secretary Robert Gates earlier this year were sufficient.

"We are in two wars, we are in a crisis in Libya, and before I could say I was for cutting defense, I'd have to be shown a need for them, not just a blanket statement that we should cut defense," said McCain. "That's just crazy and stupid."

The Paul Ryan (R-WI) budget actually calls for steady increases in defense spending: It proposes a $583 billion base defense budget in fiscal 2012, growing to $642 billion in 2016. Meanwhile the Ryan budget would slash State Department and Foreign Ops funding, which was cut by $8 billion in the budget deal struck last week to avoid a government shutdown.

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Ops Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said in a Tuesday interview that those cuts were ill advised.

"Most people think that about 20 to 40 percent of the national budget is in foreign aid, it's less than 1 percent," he said. "And A lot of time, what we do there if we do it wise keeps us out of wars."

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.