The administration has dropped a proposal to cut billions of dollars in foreign aid after bipartisan resistance from members of Congress who considered it a backdoor effort to hijack spending they had already approved.
The Office of Management and Budget, which had considered taking back more than $3 billion in unspent foreign aid as the fiscal year nears an end, notified members of Congress on Tuesday that the rollback will not occur, according to congressional aides. Only foreign aid from the budgets for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development were targeted.
The decision quashed for now a freeze on funds that the State Department and USAID had not already obligated. Congress would have had 45 days to act, but the fiscal year would have ended before then, and the money would have been returned to the Treasury.
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), vice chairman of the Appropriations Committee, called the rollback “a welcome decision.” Last week, he sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and OMB Director Mick Mulvaney urging them not to thwart the will of Congress with rescissions submitted too late for lawmakers’ to act.
“Rescinding funds that had been agreed to by Congress and signed into law by the President, in the waning days of the fiscal year, would have set a terrible precedent and harmed programs that further United States interests around the world,” he said in a statement Tuesday.
Foreign aid enjoys broad support in Congress and the Defense Department, which considers it a tool of effective diplomacy and U.S. values. The administration had twice tried to push through steep cuts to foreign aid, but Congress has put it back in place.
Since the OMB asked the State Department and USAID to provide a list of funds that had not been committed by mid-August, rumors circulated among diplomats and the international development community about whether the rescission was about to happen, or had been blocked.
Pompeo had argued ferociously against the rollback championed by Mulvaney. Since taking office in April, Pompeo has repeatedly said he wants to restore “swagger” to the State Department. Having almost 10 percent of foreign aid snatched from his control would have made that task far more difficult and would have wounded him in the eyes of employees who consider U.S. aid to be an essential tool for American diplomacy.
At his confirmation hearing in April, Pompeo vowed to push for money he considered necessary, as he said he had done when he was director of the CIA.
“And, when our team needed extra resources, I never hesitated to ask the president — and so long as he found value in the task, he never hesitated to provide them,” Pompeo said in the hearing. “I will, with your help, do the same at the Department of State.”
Liz Schrayer, president of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, credited Pompeo for his willingness to fight to keep the foreign aid.
“The swagger is definitely back with the quick death of the fourth proposal in two years to slash foreign assistance,” she said. “Secretary Pompeo is clearly on top of his department’s budget with impressive bipartisan backing from Senate leaders.”