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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.