Increasing spending on the State Department and international affairs while freezing discretionary domestic spending is probably not likely to endear President Obama further to constituencies on either side of the Congressional aisle. Yet, the State Department is one of the few winners in President Obama’s FY 2011 budget request, continuing a five year commitment made last year to increase capacity at Foggy Bottom.
The way the funding request is structured tells you much about the President’s priorities in foreign policy, which hold fairly closely to traditional Democratic priorities. It certainly does not reflect the big bold transformations that have been held out as the premise for the forthcoming Quadrennial Development and Diplomacy Review.
Yet, even the most lavish State Department budget shrinks by comparison with the behemoth $3.8 trillion budget colossus brought to Capitol Hill by forklift from the White House this morning. The President has requested $56.7 billion for the foreign affairs account, up from $50.9 billion in the final FY 2010 appropriation, an increase of about 9 percent. On coming into office President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton laid out an ambitious five year plan that was meant to almost double funding for State over five years to $69.3 billion in 2014. Whether that ambitious plan ever comes to pass seems dubious in today’s economic environment.
This year’s increase, however, does not affect the operations of State as much as it does reflect the administration’s new focus on Pakistan and its determination to increase foreign aid. In fact, the State Department’s operations will see a decline from last year, when it admittedly did received a whopping increase. The biggest budget increase this year is in the newly minted Pakistan Counterinsurgency account, which will receive $1.2 billion. Other big increases to the President Global Health Initiative, which is up $684 million over last year to $8.5 billion. And traditional development assistance is up almost $450 million to $2.9 billion. The Millennium Challenge Corporation is also set to receive an increase in funding, albeit more modest from $1.1 to $1.3 billion. Appropriately, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees U.S. international broadcasting, is also marked for an increase from $1.1 billion this year to $1.28 billion next year. (Whether that increase will persuade them to restore unfortunate cuts in crucial language services is something to be watched.) Another big winner is the Peace Corps, which is scheduled to grow to 11,000 volunteera by 2016.
Equally significant and perhaps predictable are the categories that are marked for significant decline is International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, Migration and Refugee Assistance, Foreign Military Financing, and Assistance for Europe, Eurasia and Central Asia. As President Obama’s foreign policy agenda seems to run short of steam in a world far more complex that apparently imagined by the new set of occupants in the White House, the administration is overall sticking to roads well travelled by former Democratic occupants of the office.
Click here for more analysis on the 2011 Budget.