- The Washington Times
Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Trump White House isn’t waiting for the new fiscal year to start cutting back federal spending for the State Department and foreign aid, as administration officials have already quietly pressured Congress to carve nearly $3 billion out of diplomatic programs previously approved for the current fiscal year.

While the bulk of the money would come out of the so-called “development assistance” spending approved by President Obama, the new administration also wants some $640 million stripped from what would have gone toward international counter-narcotics, health and AIDS relief, and basic economic support programs for U.S. allies through the end of this year.

It’s commonplace for a new administration to demand changes to spending allocations put in place by its predecessor. Mr. Trump’s team has wasted little time — they sent a memo to lawmakers last week with an outline for a total of $18 billion in cuts from discretionary spending bills for the rest of fiscal 2017, which ends September 31.

The memo was first reported Tuesday by Politico. The memo outlined how the vast majority of the cuts are being demanded for domestic spending, which includes areas such as education and mental health programs. This is a move that could threaten a major showdown ahead of Congress’ self-imposed April 28 deadline to keep the government funded without another shutdown.

The State Department’s office of public affairs on Wednesday did not dispute accuracy of the budget requests, but it declined to comment on the Trump administration 2017 budget memo to Congress.

The White House Office of Management and Budget did not respond to a request for comment.

A posting Wednesday by Diplopundit — a blog popular with career U.S. diplomats — dug into the foreign affairs side of the cuts, saying that the Trump administration is pushing on Congress to slash some $562 million in development assistance funding through the end of the year.

While a sizable chunk of that would be a reduction in support for “bilateral climate change programs that are part of the previous administrations Global Climate Change Initiative,” Diplopundit said, it would also reduce “economic assistance” to allies through decreases in funding. This includes higher education, human rights and farming assistance programs.

The Trump administration memo also is asking Congress to pare some $200 million from the existing 2017 budget for “foreign military financing,” savings that could conceivably be achieved by “cutting funding for high income countries,” according to Diplopundit.

The cuts would keep coming in Mr. Trump’s preliminary fiscal 2018 budget blueprint, which has already sparked heated debate over sweeping State Department and USAID funding cuts while providing a $54 billion spending hike for defense.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has defended the proposed cuts, saying his department’s past level of funding was “simply not sustainable.” Some conservative hard-liners and budget hawks say it’s about time for the State Department to rein in spending on items such as climate change and gay rights.

“There’s no question that this is a hard-power budget. It is not a soft-power budget,” Mick Mulvaney, Mr. Trump’s director of the Office of Management and Budget, told reporters when the budget outline was first introduced March 15. “That’s what our allies can expect, that’s what our adversaries can expect.”

But many Republicans, including several highly influential lawmakers on Capitol Hill, have pushed back, arguing that robust U.S. diplomacy and aid programs will be essential to the fight against Islamic State and other national security challenges.

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