US Foreign Policy

A New Incentive

in Program

By Russell Rumbaugh – President Obama released his
budget request for fiscal year 2013 today, which starts October 1 of this
year.  With it, he has added a new twist to the debate about our national
security funding.  The budget request, which calls for an increase to
international affairs funding—the civilian, rather than military part of our
overseas engagement—may actually encourage Congress to cut it. 

The law passed last August to help
resolve our fiscal crisis, the Budget Control Act (BCA), partly did so by
capping discretionary funding.  It created two categories  in
recognition of the differing political dynamics for different types of funding,
much as was done in the 1990s. The total spending in each category is
enforced with caps-limits on the amount of spending in each category.  But
where in the 1990s the budget was divided between defense spending and
non-defense spending with each category having its own cap, the BCA divided the
budget between security and non-security each with its own cap.  This
creates a larger category that combines defense with many civilian agencies and
activities that contribute to our national security. International Affairs,
encompasses the Department of State and all of our foreign assistance programs,
from USAID, to multilateral assistance; Homeland Security; Veterans Affairs;
some unclassified intelligence funding; as well as the National Nuclear
Security Administration, which controls our nuclear weapons materiel and
resides in the Department of Energy.  In some ways, this division was a
triumph for those who argued that international affairs funding is as critical
to our national security as defense spending.  

The President’s budget request
continues this security/non-security divide.  Under this divide,
international affairs funding did particularly well.  The budget requests
$4.3 billion more base funding for State and Other International Programs than
was provided in FY12, the largest increase of any agency.  In contrast,
the Defense Department saw a decrease of $5 billion from FY12 in its base
budget, the third-largest cut after the Departments of Justice and Health and
Human Services. 

Unfortunately, the
security/non-security divide is not the current law of the land.  The BCA
also created a committee to recommend an additional $1.2 trillion in savings,
called the supercommittee, and set up penalties if the supercommittee did not
achieve those savings.  When the supercommittee failed to reach an
agreement, a part of the penalties was a switch back to the defense/non-defense
division, rather than security/non-security.  Under that division, the amounts
the President’s budget requests for national defense-which includes nuclear
weapons funding and other defense-related activities besides just the Defense
Department-would exceed the cap by $4 billion.  If Congress does not
change how the caps are currently arrayed or appropriate less funds, all of
national defense, including the Department of Defense, will be cut back by that
$4 billion through an automatic enforcement process. The budget
request seeks to avoid this by assuming Congress will change the law to codify
the President’s concept. 

But if the administration does get
its request and Congress does change the law to restore the
security/non-security divide, Congress may be encouraged to cut international
affairs funding.  International affairs funding, with its $4 billion
increase, will be under the same cap as the Defense Department, with its $5
billion decrease.  Since the two accounts are under the same account,
Congress can move money between them without running afoul of the revised BCA’s
enforcement mechanisms.  If the traditional preferences of Congress hold,
the two houses would be sorely tempted to filch some of the international
affairs increase to prevent an unwanted cut to the Defense Department. 

The President’s budget request endorses
a modern understanding of national security funding.  But in doing so, it
opens the door for Congress to take a more traditional view and use
international affairs funding to pay for additional defense spending. 
Advocates of international affairs spending face a dilemma.  Do they
celebrate a strategic victory in having international affairs acknowledged as
key to national security?  Or do they worry they’ll lose tactically as
Congress moves funding around?  As always, the budget’s bottom line will
differ from the President’s request.

Photo Credit: DOD
Photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo,

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