Posted on November 3, 2010Not all Congress’ are alike. And this one is likely to be a unique mix of the old and the new when it comes to defense and international affairs spending. The consequences for defense and international affairs budgets and for the future of US global engagement will be striking.
by Gordon Adams
by Gordon Adams
On the defense side, it looks, at first glance, like business-as-usual. HASC Chairman Ike Skelton is gone, but the memory of how the committee does much of its business will linger on. The tone in the House will be significantly different. On the ideological side, there will be an aggressive push on such issues as Iranian sanctions and endgame, the start of an Afghanistan build-down, missile defense, terrorism, support for Israel, and getting tough with China. The incoming Republican leadership have already made that clear.
On the money, though, business for the HASC and for the defense appropriators will look much the same. The administration will send up an FY 2012 budget that asks too much for defense, and the House committees will want to match, even raise this opening bid, to ensure members’ preferences are met. Leadership and membership changes on these committees will not change that ages-old process and all the Tea Party opposition to earmarks in the world won’t keep them out of the bill.
The same cannot be said for the foreign affairs committees. The switch from Berman to Ros-Lehtinen at the HFAC and Lowey to Granger at the HAC-SFO ensure a change both in tone and in substance. All the above ideological agenda could come to the fore in the HFAC, along with such issues as future relations with Cuba.
And here, Tea Party concerns are likely to add support to a general Republican distrust of the State Department and, especially, of foreign assistance. The Berman agenda of foreign aid reform is probably a dead letter now. And the Obama administration’s goal of doubling foreign assistance, already in doubt, will not even tempt the new majority at the State/Foreign Operations subcommittee.
Pressures from outside the committees will have a big impact on how this plays out. Things may be quite different at the broader budget level. Deficit reduction politics is coming, driven by real economic necessities and the politics of a “deal.” Don’t look for the conservatives and the Tea Party to come out of the gates with full-throated support for high levels of defense spending. They want smaller government, lower deficits, less debt, and lower taxes, and they want these things now.
The politics of this debate will be confusing and ugly for the next year. The lame duck may put the FY 2011 issue off the table, just to get the old crew out of town. But the new crew is going to wrestle the FY 2012 budget at great length. And, given the reality that the Republicans do not control the Senate or the executive branch, they cannot get their way on this bigger budgetary agenda without cutting a deal.
And a deal is only possible if everything is on the table, including defense. Foreign policy funding will pay an awful price, and there is likely to be a broad willingness to let that happen, sadly. But, as the President’s debt commission and the Rivlin-Domenici commission (at the Bipartisan Policy Council) have signaled for months, a Democratic-Republican deal will only happen if all the spigots are turned off together.
So watch in the next six months for the worm to turn, even though the path will be confusing. Foreign policy budgets have reached their high mark, in all likelihood, implying a strong need for a reassessment of how State and USAID carry out their missions, a process starting with the forthcoming Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review. And, for all the desires of the House committees, defense budgets have also peaked and will start down in the next year, too, forcing a much-needed rethink of US military missions and the way in which the US uses its military tools in the post-Iraq/Afghanistan War issue.
Should be an interesting year.
Gordon Adams is a Professor in the US Foreign Policy Program at the School of International Service, American University. He is also a Distinguished Fellow at the Stimson Center. For media inquiries, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.