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.