The State Department budget won’t be getting cut as deeply as President Donald Trump initially suggested after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson successfully pushed back with the White House, according to people familiar with the plans.
The budget blueprint expected later this week will still trim funding for both the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development next year, but by less than the 37 percent initially floated in preliminary documents sent out by the White House in late February.
The budget revision is expected to include “staged cuts” spread out over several years, instead of the immediate hit, according to a senior administration official, who said that the White House is giving Tillerson time “to do a deeper analysis on foreign aid.”
Tillerson and his top aides are assessing how to restructure the State Department, another person with knowledge of the discussions said, and is willing to take a “significant” cut to the department’s budget.
Tillerson wouldn’t agree to a 37 percent cut in the next fiscal year because he wants to decide how the cuts are made, this person said, focusing on departments, offices and issues that he doesn’t think are important.
In the last week, Tillerson’s met twice with Trump, once over lunch and once in the Oval Office, and he’s scheduled to have dinner with Trump on Monday along with new National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. Including Monday’s dinner, Tillerson and Trump will have met six times in the last three weeks.
It wasn’t clear exactly how much the upcoming budget proposal would slash State Department funding right away, or if the staged cuts would eventually add up to 37 percent from this year.
Tillerson expects to develop a plan for how he sees the State Department in the next six to 12 months, the second person familiar with the budget discussions said, “and you can expect the department to look pretty different.”
The State Department and USAID budget request for the 2017 fiscal year was about $50 billion, part of a broader $58.8 billion “international affairs budget.” That’s still a fraction of the $3 trillion-plus federal budget.
The State Department declined to answer specific questions about expected cuts.
“We are working with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to review FY 2018 budget priorities for the Department of State and USAID. We remain committed to a U.S. foreign policy that advances the security and prosperity of the American people,” a State Department spokesperson said, adding. “The State Department and USAID continue to work on behalf of the American people to advance our national security, diplomacy, and development objectives.”
Presidential budgets are offered as suggestions, and it’s up to Congress to decide where to set spending levels. But the proposed cuts gave a window in the president’s thinking about which programs are most important. The initial proposals included a $54 billion increase in military spending.
The cuts to State have been opposed by more than 120 retired generals and admirals, who sent a letter to congressional leaders urging them not to dial back American spending on diplomacy and development aid. The letter cited comments by Gen. James Mattis, now Trump’s secretary of defense, who said in 2013, “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition.”
“Now is not the time to retreat,” the letter said.
Republicans on Capitol Hill gave the initial proposed cuts to State a chilly reception.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican, wrote on Twitter at the time: “Foreign Aid is not charity. We must make sure it is well spent, but it is less than 1% of budget & critical to our national security.”
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