The Cable

House releases State and Foreign ops funding proposal; proposes wide range of cuts

The House Appropriations State and Foreign Operations subcommittee has released its fiscal 2013 appropriations legislation, which would cut billions from the president's request for a range of key international programs.

The bill, to be marked up by the subcommittee Wednesday morning, would provide $40.1 billion for the base budget of the State Department, USAID, and international affairs programs in other agencies, in addition to $8.2 billion for diplomatic and development programs related to the ongoing wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan in what's known as the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account. If enacted, the legislation would represent a 12 percent cut from the administration's $54.71 billion budget request.

When war costs are taken out of the equation, the House proposal would represent a 14 percent cut to the administration's request. The House proposal would also cut $5 billion or 9 percent from the funding levels enacted in fiscal 2012.

The Senate Appropriations Committee, in its own allocations, proposed giving the State and foreign operations accounts $53 billion, roughly equal to fiscal 2012 levels, although the Senate proposed shifting $5 billion from the OCO account to the base budget. The Senate could mark up its version of the bill as early as next week.

"This is a tough, effective national security bill that continues to cut spending, reform our aid programs, and demand accountability from our partners and allies," Subcommittee Chairwoman Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX) said in a release. "This bill reflects principled funding decisions that give the United States the flexibility to respond to a rapidly changing world while making sure our foreign aid is not a blank check for foreign governments who do not support our national security priorities."

Her Democratic counterpart, Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), was more critical of the committee's proposal. She told The Cable that the House was cutting unnecessarily, considering that the overall discretionary allocations determined by the Republican majority, amounting to $1.028 trillion, was under the $1.047 trillion limit allowed under the Budget Control Act of 2011, the deal struck last year to avert a crisis over the debt ceiling.

"The proposed funding levels are insufficient for our nation to respond to health, education, and security challenges; make critical investments in diplomacy and development; and ensure robust oversight over taxpayer funds," Lowey said. "As the appropriations process moves forward, I will work to protect critical priorities and remove onerous policy riders that hurt our ability to maintain moral leadership worldwide."

The House subcommittee's bill contains several policy riders that have appeared in previous bills but are staunchly opposed by congressional Democrats and the administration. The legislation would reinstitute the so-called Mexico City policy, also known as the "global gag rule," which would bar funding to any international organizations that discuss abortion. The bill would also cap spending on family planning and reproductive health programs at the fiscal 2008 level.

According to a committee-issued press release, the bill also "maintains long-standing pro-life riders, including the ‘Tiahrt Amendment,' which ensures family planning programs are voluntary; the ‘Helms Amendment,' which bans ‘foreign aid from being spent on abortions; and the ‘Kemp-Kasten Amendment, which prohibits funds to organizations the President determines to support coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization."

For the State Department and USAID, the bill proposes cuts across the board, including steep cuts to programs that focus on multilateral institution building.

The State Department would be forced to operate with $433 million less than in fiscal 2012. The committee proposed giving State $12.9 billion for operations, $1.5 billion less than the president's request. USAID would get $1.2 billion in operations funding under the bill, a reduction of $73 million from last year's level and $252.5 million below the president's request.

On the United Nations, the House is proposing cutting U.S. funding for the U.N.'s Human Rights Council, the U.N. population fund, and any U.N. organization led by a "terrorist country." The bill provides no funding for the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), following U.S. law that prohibits funds for any U.N. organization that has admitted Palestine as a member. Other U.N. agencies would see partial reductions in U.S. contributions until they provide full financial audits.

The bill would cut $632 million from the president's $7.9 billion request for international security assistance. Inside that total, the bill would fully fund the administration's $3.1 billion request for assistance to Israel and the $300 million request for assistance to Jordan.

The bill would also cut $3 billion from the administration's $17.2 billion request for bilateral economic assistance while proposing increased funding above the president's request for global health programs, refugee assistance, and democracy promotion activities.

The committee is also proposing a $725 reduction in the administration's $2.9 billion request for multilateral assistance, which would result in reduced U.S. contributions to a host of international organizations and multilateral financial institutions, including the provision of only half of the requested capital for the multilateral development bank,

As for country-specific funding requests, the bill would seek to cut foreign aid to several countries that do not meet Congress's conditions. For example, according to the committee's press release, the bill would affect foreign aid in the follow ways:

  • Afghanistan - The legislation withholds operating funds until a transition plan is submitted and withholds assistance until certifications that proper security is in place for civilian aid workers can be made.
  • Pakistan - The legislation prohibits economic and security assistance unless the Government of Pakistan is cooperating with the United States on counterterrorism efforts and other issues.
  • Egypt - The legislation prohibits economic and security assistance if the Government of Egypt does not adhere to the peace treaty with Israel, and requires the Secretary of State to certify that additional conditions have been met, including respect for due process of law.
  • Palestinian Authority - The legislation stops economic assistance to the Palestinian Authority if the Palestinians obtain membership at the United Nations or its specialized agencies without an agreement with Israel.

The Cable

Top Senate staffer joins Foreign Policy

Author and journalist Peter Scoblic started Monday as Foreign Policy's new executive editor, returning to journalism after a two-year stint on Capitol Hill, where he served most recently as deputy staff director of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC).

At FP, he'll head up the magazine's national security team as it continues to expand under the leadership of new CEO David Rothkopf, according to editor-in-chief Susan Glasser. "Susan came to me with a fantastic opportunity to rejoin the world of journalism," Scoblic told The Cable. "I enjoyed my time on Capitol Hill tremendously and learned a great amount, but this was an opportunity to return to doing something I loved at an institution that has become more and more influential over the last couple of years."

Scoblic, an expert on nuclear strategy, started in 2010 at the SFRC as a senior policy advisor working primarily on the ratification of New START, the Obama administration's strategic arms treaty with Russia, before becoming the committee's chief speechwriter and then its deputy staff director.

The months-long push to ratify New START, which passed the Senate in December 2010, was the highlight of his tenure, he said.

"That was a harder-fought battle than a lot of people expected, but we had a lot of good arguments," he said. "The eight days of floor debate we had on New START were actually representative of a deliberative democracy working the way it is supposed to work, which we haven't always seen in the past two years."

Scoblic's interest in arms control issues dates back to his time as the editor of Arms Control Today, published by the Arms Control Association. He then spent 7 years in various capacities at the New Republic, where he eventually became executive editor before heading to Congress, an experience he described as both "frustrating and enthralling."

He also wrote a well-regarded book on nuclear strategy, U.S. vs. Them: Conservatism in the Age of Nuclear Terror.

Scoblic lives in Washington with his wife Sacha, author of Unwasted: My Lush Sobriety, son Theo, and Norwich terrier Sci Fi.

"Peter was a top recruit for our Committee and he's a top recruit now for the magazine. His subject matter knowledge of non-proliferation and his keen insight and writing skill will serve Foreign Policy well, just as they were invaluable to the Committee," Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) told The Cable in a statement. "He leaves us having really stepped up in the successful fight to shepherd the New START Treaty through the committee and the Senate. On issue after issue, he was a top flight member of the committee team, approaching all issues with great skill and sensitivity.  Peter's talents and dedication will ensure enormous success as he returns to his first passion, journalism and advocacy."