Budget cuts by hatchet or scalpel?
This weekend’s “debt deal” in Congress, which raised the debt ceiling and agreed to some cuts in the future, contains a change in how the international affairs budget is calculated within the federal budget. In Section 102 of the bill, Function 150 budgets are reclassified as “security.” This means foreign assistance and development programs — USAID, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and lots of State Department programs — are now in the same budget category as the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security and the National Nuclear Safety Administration.
It might seem like a minor thing, but this actually provides a sneaky way for the Congress to cut money from “national security” without actually touching sacred DOD programs. By cutting assistance agencies like USAID — a GOP goal for the last 18 months — Congress can cut from development assistance programs and say it is reducing national security spending. This change in language is damaging in that it furthers the militarization of civilian aid programs.
Respected defense analysts like Gordon Adams and Cindy Williams have argued forcefully that USAID is a part of the national security budget. And they are right to a degree: The argument that the U.S. has a compelling national security interest in developing poor countries, in responding to disasters and in alleviating famine is a perfectly reasonable one. Afghanistan and Pakistan are two of the biggest recipients of USAID money because the Obama administration believes USAID’s programs serve a vital function in America’s relationship to both countries.
But just because USAID can serve a national security function, it doesn’t automatically mean the international affairs budget should be militarized, or even considered part of the security budget. USAID, but also the MCC and other Function 150 programs (consisting of 12 departments, 25 agencies and nearly 60 government offices) perform lots of functions that have no direct bearing on national security. There is intrinsic value in effective programs like the Millennium Challenge Account Philippines that advance American national interests but do not play a security function. But, now they are all fall under a rubric of “security.”