The Federal Budget and Appropriations for Fiscal Year 2010: Democracy, Governance, and Human Rights in the Middle East
Project on Middle East Democracy, July 2009.
by Stephen McInerney
In May, President Obama submitted to Congress the full details of his first budget request, for Fiscal Year 2010. Since then, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have produced two similar versions of the FY2010 appropriations bill for State and Foreign Operations. Each is based on the President’s request and comes close to granting funding as requested for international affairs, with only a few notable exceptions. As this report goes to print, the full Senate is preparing to consider its appropriations bill. In September, the House and Senate will convene a conference committee to resolve differences between their respective bills.
President Obama’s budget for FY10 is important because it represents a broader demonstration of the priorities of his administration than we had seen previously. While the new president has made several trips abroad and given a number of high-profile speeches to set the tone for the foreign policy of his new administration, the budget is a substantive indicator of policy priorities.
In general, the President’s first annual budget demonstrates that the Obama administration does take seriously the role of the U.S. in supporting democracy, governance, and human rights in the Broader Middle East and North Africa (BMENA). The new administration has requested large increases in funding for programs to support democracy, governance, and human rights. However, it has also shifted funds in the Arab world away from partnerships with local civil society actors and toward other initiatives, including rule of law and governance programs. Whether this strategy ultimately pays dividends, either for U.S. interests in the region or in supporting the democratic aspirations of the people of the Middle East remains to be seen.
For the most part, the President’s request for international affairs is expected to be approved by Congress. The Democrat-controlled Congress appears far more willing to grant increases in foreign affairs funding to the Obama administration than they were to the Bush administration. Perhaps the most pressing remaining question is whether Congress will grant funding for the Millennium Challenge Corporation as requested. While the House version of the bill contains only slightly less than the administration’s request, the Senate version currently contains far deeper cuts.
- Total foreign assistance is up. The Obama administration has worked to considerably increase overall foreign assistance for the Broader Middle East and North Africa, first through the FY09 supplemental appropriations process, and later through its FY10 budget request. At $11.0 billion, the request represents a 48% increase over President Bush’s annual request for total aid to the region a year ago.
- Requested funding for democracy and governance is doubled. For the entire BMENA region, the administration has requested $1.54 billion for democracy and governance programs – more than double the amount in President Bush’s annual request for FY09. This 14% of the total foreign assistance requested for the region; prior to 2009, this fraction had never exceeded 5.7%.
- However, most of this aid – and most of the increase – is for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. The vast majority of democracy and governance funding for the region accompanies U.S. military efforts in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. Of the total $1.54 billion requested, 86% is designated for these three countries. Aside from these countries, funding for democracy and governance programs in the remainder of the region is increased, but far more modestly – up 14% from $190 million allocated in FY09.
- The Obama budget strongly supports MEPI and MCC. President Obama’s budget sends a clear signal of support for two important assistance tools established during the Bush administration – the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) – by requesting increases in funding of more than 70% for each of the two initiatives.
- Aid to Morocco and Yemen is up. The administration’s budget requests sharp increases in overall assistance, as well as democracy and governance aid, for Morocco and Yemen.
- Aid to Arab civil society groups is down. The administration reduced its support for civil society through bilateral foreign assistance in the Arab world, while adding funding to State Department tools specifically designed for such work, including MEPI and the Middle East programming within the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL). However, the cuts to civil society are far greater than the new increases. Compared to current levels of funding, the FY10 request represents a 29% cut for Arab civil society programs.
- This includes especially big cuts in Egypt and Jordan. Overall bilateral democracy and governance aid to key Arab allies Egypt and Jordan is cut by more than 40%, with even sharper cuts to funding allocated for civil society organizations. Some of this funding may be replaced by new programming through other accounts. However, the extent of this new funding remains to be seen.
- Congress is supportive. Whereas Congressional support for a variety of foreign assistance programs, including MEPI and MCC, faded during the last few years of the Bush administration, the Democrat-controlled Congress appears to be much more comfortable granting funds for similar requests to the new President and administration, at least in its first year.
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About the Author:
Stephen McInerney is Director of Advocacy for the Project on Middle East Democracy. He has extensive experience in the Middle East and North Africa, including graduate studies of Middle Eastern politics, history, and the Arabic language at the American University of Beirut and the American University in Cairo. He has spoken on Middle East affairs with numerous media outlets including MSNBC and CBS News. His writing on Middle East affairs and U.S. policy has been published by the Carnegie Endowment’s Arab Reform Bulletin, the Daily Star, the New Republic, Foreign Policy, and the Washington Post. He received a Masters degree from Stanford University.