Democrats push for $12 billion increase to US international affairs budget

Several politicians are pushing for an expansion to the diplomatic and development budget to counter China

Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, wears a protective mask as he speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, March 11, 2021. President Biden's $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill cleared its final congressional hurdle Wednesday, with the House passing the bill on a 220-to-211 vote, sending it to the president for his signature. Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg

A group of Democrats in Congress are hoping to use their new majority to greatly expand US diplomatic and development initiatives, arguing for a $12 billion increase in the international affairs budget.

Chris Murphy and Chris Van Hollen in the Senate teamed up with David Cicilline and Ami Bera in the House of Representatives to release the proposal on Tuesday, saying that the increase is necessary to counter China, fight climate change and ward off future pandemics.

“It is worth repeating how out of whack our resource allocation is today,” Mr Murphy told reporters on a press call touting the proposal. “Right now, we’re spending around 13 times as much money on the US military and its budget than we are on diplomacy and development – smart-power tools.”

“There’s no way you can make an argument that military threats to the United States are 13 times more serious than the combined threat of the pandemic, climate change and rising Chinese and Russian influence.”

Both Mr Murphy and Mr Van Hollen sit on the Senate spending panel, which is in charge of overseeing the diplomatic and development budget.

The proposed increase would provide the State Department and USAID, Washington’s international development agency, with $68.7bn in funding for the 2022 fiscal year. This would represent a roughly 20 per cent increase over 2020, when Congress provided $56.6bn in funding for the State Department and USAID.

But it would still pale in comparison to the enormous US defence budget. Congress appropriated $740bn in defence funding for the current fiscal year.

The proposal comes after the Trump administration unsuccessfully sought to slash funding to the State Department and USAID year after year despite bipartisan opposition from Congress.

Although Congress refused to cut the foreign aid budget, the Trump administration routinely flouted congressional appropriators, reprogramming foreign assistance away from Yemen and Palestine.

“As a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, I watched with growing alarm as the Department of Defence budget has increased by hundreds of billions of dollars over the last several years while State and USAID have been hollowed out in many ways,” said Mr Cicilline.

The proposal also cites reports from the American Foreign Service Association which say that the State Department lost 60 per cent of its career ambassadors during former president Donald Trump’s first year in office and 20 per cent of its senior civil servants between 2016 and 2018.

“This is a down payment on what we really need: a diplomatic corps and development resources as we look at the challenges that we face in the 21st century,” said Mr Bera.

To that end, the proposal calls for $480 million to hire an additional 1,200 foreign service officers at the State Department and another $120m for an additional 300 USAID officers for the 2022 fiscal year.

It also calls for an additional $2bn in global health security and $3bn for the green climate fund, a UN organisation that helps developing countries lower their carbon emissions. The Trump administration cut off US contributions to the green climate fund while withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement.

Additionally, the proposal would allocate an additional $89m to administrative costs to double the loan caps for the development finance corporation. The proposed new cap would allow Washington to distribute up to $120bn in loans for private development projects in low-income countries, up from a $60bn cap in 2019.

“Senator Murphy and I have raised this issue with [Secretary of State Antony Blinken] and [National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan],” said Mr Van Hollen. “Secretary Blinken believes that we need to boost our funds for the development finance corporation if we’re going to compete with China in places like Africa and their Belt and Road Initiative.”

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