In a July 11, 2019 op-ed for Just Security, “Congress Will Ignore Trump’s Foreign Affairs Budget Request. Others Will Not.” POMED Deputy Director for Policy Andrew Miller explains what the administration’s lowball budget request signals to its own administration and to foreign officials.
President Donald Trump’s proposal to make massive cuts to the Fiscal Year 2020 U.S. foreign affairs budget has not attracted much attention in Washington. This stands in marked contrast to the widespread, passionate denunciations provoked by very similar proposals in the first two years of his presidency. The muted reaction this year, however, is not a product of diminished interest in U.S. international affairs spending. Instead, it reflects confidence that Congress will reject Trump’s anemic budget request for the third consecutive year. Still, the proposal sends a very clear — and damaging — signal about his priorities, not only to the international community, but also to those working inside his administration.
Congress resoundingly rejected Trump’s first two proposals to substantially cut the foreign affairs budget. When he sought $40.2 billion in FY18, a 30 percent decrease from the previous year, Congress responded by appropriating $54.2 billion, 35 percent more than he requested. The next year, Congress answered Trump’s proposed $41.8 billion in the FY19 foreign affairs budget, a 23 percent cut, with $54.4 billion, 30 percent more than he had allotted.
The foreign policy community’s faith that Congress will do the right thing yet again is not misplaced. Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC), the chairman of the Senate appropriations subcommittee responsible for the budget of the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, bluntly told Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that “we’re not going to approve” the president’s proposal to cut the foreign affairs budget by 21 percent. Representative Nita Lowey (D-NY), the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, also made clear that the president’s budget was dead on arrival, saying it “would undermine U.S. leadership.” In an increasingly partisan age, support for the foreign affairs budget is bipartisan and bicameral, and the final FY20 budget will almost certainly look a lot like prior years.
But while President Trump’s budget request has no chance of being adopted by Congress, the truth is that it still signifies publicly his evident disdain for these departments and their work, and thereby damages U.S. foreign policy. As former Vice President Joe Biden likes to say, “Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.” When the president consistently calls for reducing funding for certain types of programming, his budget tells his own government — as well as foreign ones — that he does not care about those programs…
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