On Wednesday, the House Budget Committee approved Chairman Ryan’s budget for fiscal year 2013.  It includes sizeable decreases for the international affairs budget, but not for defense.  It also reduces funding for the Overseas Contingency Operations account that is designed for both civilian and military costs associated with activities in the front-line states of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. The full table of cuts, by budget function, can be found here.

The Ryan budget would allocate $43.1 billion for the international affairs budget in 2013, down from the Committee’s estimate of $47.8 billion for fiscal year 2012.  This is nearly a 10% reduction.  Government-wide spending would total $1.028 trillion, or $19 billion below the spending cap imposed by the Budget Control Act.  While the House may approve the lower number, Senate leaders have stated their plan to keep with the higher number, a figure that will still exert strong downward spending across nearly all budget functions.  This will greatly complicate the work of the Appropriations Committees since both House and Senate appropriators will be working with different allocations.

Putting aside issues of politics and process for the moment, the Ryan budget signals a disregard for the value of diplomacy and development to promote and protect U.S. interests abroad.  By contrast, the national defense budget comes away flat-lined, but represents a significant increase from the president's FY2013 request. This is despite the fact that successive National Security Strategies have asserted the equal value of defense, diplomacy and development (see here and here), a balance reconfirmed by the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review.

This is not to say that funding for diplomacy and development should be equal to defense as the two missions and their associated costs are different.  I am also not claiming that international affairs should be immune from cuts, but there is certainly room for a more thoughtful and thorough review of spending.  I have long advocated linking aid to better defined purposes and greater selectivity.

It seems reasonable to conclude that some degree of cuts to international affairs will occur in FY2013 and beyond.  The goal then should be to reorient the budget in ways that maintain U.S. global leadership rather than setting an arbitrary funding level that is seemingly divorced from U.S. interests.  Reorienting aid programs by being more selective in where the U.S. makes investments and more focused on achieving well-defined and achievable goals is a good starting point.

To that end, John Norris at the Center for American Progress and I formed a working group to prioritize the international affairs budget amid austerity.  We have identified priority countries that represent sound investments on both development and national interest grounds, as well as those countries in which aid should be ended or curtailed.  Our cost savings are significant but would not cripple U.S. global engagement.  We also identify those areas that should be protected from cuts, such as operating expenses and training.

For a preview, John and I discuss the upcoming report here.  Stay tuned for its release mid-April.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD does not take institutional positions.


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