State Department Faces Trump Funding Cut as Senators Resist

  • Cuts would pay for Trump’s proposed defense spending increase
  • ‘Dead on arrival,’ Republican Senator Graham said of the plan

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President Donald Trump’s administration has proposed cutting funding to the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development by more than a third in a move that drew immediate pushback from senators on both sides of the aisle.

The White House Office of Management and Budget has proposed cuts of 37 percent at two agencies that provide U.S. foreign aid, according to two people familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified because the figure hasn’t been publicly announced. The State Department and USAID requested more than $50 billion for 2017.

The cuts are part of Trump’s plan to cut spending from the government’s discretionary budget to fund increases in defense spending, according to administration officials. Some conservatives have objected to the way the State Department’s programs grew under President Barack Obama, with numerous special envoys and offices overseeing projects such as climate change and biodiversity.

"If it’s anywhere in the ballpark of what I’ve seen about the State Department, that’s definitely dead on arrival,” Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, said of Trump’s State Department cuts. “That guts soft power and puts our diplomats at risk.”

Senator Bob Corker, the Tennessee Republican who heads the Foreign Relations Committee, said the budget process was only beginning. He said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is in the process of preparing a response.

Tillerson’s own response wasn’t immediately known, though he and Trump discussed the need to overhaul the department when he was interviewed for the job, according to a transition official familiar with the conversation. Acting State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the department was working with the OMB to review budget priorities.

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The move on the State Department reflects a desire to pare back spending that blossomed under Obama, according to James Carafano, director of foreign policy studies at the conservative Heritage Foundation, who was involved in the Trump transition.

“If you look at the department’s budget, it has significantly ballooned since 2008 and all of that growth, outside of diplomatic security, is in Obama’s pet projects,” Carafano said. “So I can’t imagine why Tillerson has any commitment to go and defend all of Obama’s pet projects against the president who just put him in the job.”

With the move, Trump would be going up against not only Congress but also retired members of the military, which would benefit from increased Defense Department spending. In a letter circulated Monday, more than 120 retired generals and admirals urged Congress to block the cuts.

“If we’re going to put America First, we can’t tie the hands of our diplomats and development workers,” they said in the letter.

— With assistance by Laura Litvan

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