The Foreign Aid Cuts Look to Be Real Enough, but the Trump Administration Doesn’t Necessarily Want to Own Them

So it turns out the “skinny budget” released by the White House is really just a press release—a sprinkling of numbers amidst a lot of assertion and characterization of the real budget that is yet to come.

By Scott Morris

When it comes to foreign assistance, the skinny budget doesn’t quite know what it wants to be, with statements that are both confused and confusing.

The headline is clear enough: a 28 percent or $10 billion reduction in funding for US engagement in the world. And while much attention will be focused on the top-line of 28 percent cuts, the reality is the cuts would be even deeper. There would also be a 37.4 percent cut to the 150 Account’s Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funds. This would bring the total request for international programs to $39.1 billion, a reduction of $18.1 billion from the $57.2 billion enacted in FY17.

But read the talking points that fill out the two pages of this portion of the budget and you might think that, with a few exceptions, nothing much is changing. The United States will “retain” its status as top donor to the multilateral development banks; “maintain” current commitments under PEPFAR; and “fulfill” its pledge to GAVI. In other areas, any talk of cuts is masked by the language of reform: it “refocuses” on countries of strategic importance; “challenges” organizations to become more effective; and “improves efficiency” by eliminating duplication. And then in a few areas, big and small in budget terms, the language of upheaval is clear: educational and cultural exchange programs, climate programs, “small organizations” are all directly on the chopping block.

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