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State Department’s 28 percent cuts hit foreign aid, U.N. and climate change

State Department employees listen to newly-appointed U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in the lobby of the State Department. (Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA)

The State Department faces cuts of nearly 29 percent, with $10 billion shaved off its core program funding under proposals to eliminate climate-change initiatives and to slash foreign aid, contributions to the United Nations and cultural exchanges.

The basic budget for the State Department and USAID, which houses many U.S. development and economic aid programs around the world, will shrink from $36.7 billion to $25.6 billion. The Trump budget also calls for $1.5 billion for Treasury International Programs, a 35 percent reduction from the previous year, a figure the White House included in its discussion of State’s budget. The administration also proposes $12 billion for operations in war-torn areas such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, down from more than $20 billion this year. Overall, the budget would shrink from $52.8 billion to $37.6 billion.

The proposal reflects a dramatic shift in U.S. foreign policy to an “America First” focus on whether programs meet specific U.S. interests. Many of the spending cuts are in programs whose missions are deemed poorly managed or insufficient in advancing U.S. foreign policy goals.

Many programs advanced by the Obama administration will be devastated.

What's getting cut in Trump's budget

The Global Climate Change Initiative, a $350 million USAID program that helps countries invest in renewable energy and land management, would be eliminated. The same with a U.N.-affiliated Green Climate Fund, which the Obama administration gave $1 billion of $3 billion pledged, including $500 million transferred just days before President Trump’s inauguration.

The budget assumes there will be reduced U.S. contributions to the United Nations, and other countries will be expected to chip in more. The United States is currently assessed 22 percent of operating costs — not just for running the New York headquarters but also for related groups such as the International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal, the World Health Organization and dozens more. The proposal notes that in future, Washington will cap its share of peacemaking costs at 25 percent, down from 28 percent.

The United States will also contribute less to international development banks, including the World Bank, which runs anti-poverty programs in developing countries. But the reduction is not huge, about $650 million over three years.

While money will be set aside for humanitarian aid, including disaster relief and helping refugees, the budget pointedly notes that the rest of the world will be asked to pay its fair share. The $50 million Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance account is judged duplicated, and is eliminated.

U.S. economic and development aid will in future be directed to countries of the greatest strategic importance to the United States. During the campaign, Trump vowed to “stop sending aid to countries that hate us.”

Some military aid is slated to undergo a dramatic shift from grants to loans. However, the budget maintains $3.1 billion in security aid President Barack Obama committed to Israel, a historically high amount. Virtually all foreign military aid comes with the mandate that it be spent on U.S. military equipment, so it is unclear whether recipients will balk at borrowing the money if they are required to spend it on American-made goods.

In one set of cuts that can be expected to draw resistance from Congress, the budget calls for reduced funding for educational and cultural exchange programs. Many of these programs are considered long-term goodwill investments, bringing foreign athletes, scholars, teachers, journalists and students to the United States and sending their U.S. counterparts to some 160 countries.

Everything you ever wanted to know about the U.S. foreign assistance budget

The most well-known of these exchanges is the Fulbright Program, which was founded 70 years ago and includes alumni in the U.S. Congress and in senior levels of governments around the world. Initially, the Trump administration considered eliminating the entire Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, which oversees the exchanges, according to former and current State Department officials. But in the budget proposal released Thursday, reductions will be made and the cost savings will be used to keep the Fulbright Program going.