A Trump administration proposal to slash funding for the State Department and foreign aid is unlikely to be approved by Congress, lawmakers from both parties said Tuesday.
“It’s dead on arrival,” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said in an interview with NBC. “It’s not gonna happen. It would be a disaster.”
The Associated Press on Tuesday pegged the proposed budget cut at 37 percent, but the White House declined to confirm any specific number.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House principal deputy press secretary, said Tuesday that the budget remains in “a discussion process.”
John Czwartacki, spokesman for the White House Office of Management and Budget, said the budget proposal will be released in mid-March.
“The president and his Cabinet are working collaboratively as we speak to create a budget that keeps the president’s promises to secure the country and restore fiscal sanity to how we spend American taxpayers’ money,” he said. “That said, the president has made it clear: We are going to spend less on other countries as we reprioritize how American tax dollars are allocated.”
Trump has said he plans a “historic” military buildup that would be financed in part by cuts in foreign aid and other programs. His administration has said foreign aid will be evaluated on the basis of its benefit to the United States.
An administration official had said Monday that Trump will propose an increase in defense-related spending by $54 billion and cuts to other federal agencies.
The State Department and USAID’s current annual budget is $50.1 billion, slightly more than 1 percent of the total federal budget. A cut of 30 percent or more would force major cuts in diplomatic and development programs around the world, and Graham and others said it misunderstands the role that diplomacy and aid play in keeping Americans safe.
“If you take soft power off the table then you’re never going to win the war,” Graham said in the NBC interview. “What’s most disturbing about the cut in the State Department’s budget is it shows a lack of understanding of what it takes to win the war.”
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters Tuesday that “Democrats and Republicans are both going to run away,” from the Trump budget proposal. “His proposals are falling apart everywhere,” Schumer said.
He suggested that a huge State Department cut would be a “poison pill” for Democrats, while Graham suggested it was a stunt done for effect.
The emphasis on the Pentagon at the partial expense of the State Department is among several signs that the White House is reducing the role and influence of the department and the diplomatic corps.
The State Department’s relative silence — no public briefings, few public sightings and fewer public words from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson — is another.
Sanders, the White House spokeswoman, rejected the notion that slashing the State Department budget is a blow to Tillerson’s standing or a sign of reduced clout.
“I would disagree that Secretary of State Tillerson has been marginalized,” she said. “That couldn’t be further from the truth.”
The Trump administration requested the resignation of the top State Department official overseeing budgets and resources in its first week, and does not plan to fill another top management and budget job. While Tillerson was out of town this month, the White House abruptly removed the department’s counselor. The job had been held by Kristie Kenney, a three-time ambassador who was the top-ranking woman in the department headquarters.
Tillerson, who has no experience in government, was publicly embarrassed by Trump’s rejection of Tillerson’s chosen deputy, Elliott Abrams.
More than 120 retired three and four-star generals sent a letter to House and Senate leaders protesting any large cut in funding for diplomacy.
“Elevating and strengthening diplomacy and development alongside defense are critical to keeping America safe,” they wrote.
“We know from our service in uniform that many of the crises our nation faces do not have military solutions alone.”
Philip Rucker contributed to this report.