Senate committee rejects cuts to foreign aid
Washington — Rebuffing a Republican president, a GOP-led Senate panel on Thursday rejected President Donald Trump’s proposed cuts to foreign aid and deep reductions in spending on domestic programs such as education, housing and energy.
The powerful Appropriations Committee that oversees spending for the federal government approved the plan on a party-line vote.
In May, Trump proposed a cut of some 32 percent in spending in diplomacy programs such as economic aid and contributions to international organizations. The committee agreed on spending about $11 billion more than the president sought for $51.2 billion next year for the State Department and related agencies.
While overall spending would remain frozen, bills funding education, housing and transportation, homeland security, and energy would all receive increases. An additional $3 billion would come from a trust fund that’s supposed to be dedicated to crime victims, and emergency war funding is sprinkled generously to limit cuts to foreign aid.
The Senate panel tries to work on a bipartisan basis. Both parties want a budget deal to increase spending but negotiations by top Capitol Hill leaders and the administration have yet to start in earnest. The fiscal year starts Oct. 1 and a stopgap funding measure will be required to avert a government shutdown.
“Negotiations within Congress and with the president may eventually produce a new budget agreement,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran, R-Miss., who said that in the meantime it’s time to move ahead.
Democrats pressed for higher spending but are working cooperatively in crafting bills under Cochran’s plan.
The move by the Senate panel is in sharp contrast to action in the House, where Republicans are pushing budget and spending plans that would increase the Pentagon’s budget by about $70 billion above current levels and cut most domestic agencies, though not as sharply as Trump would like.
Trump had proposed adding $54 billion above an existing limit on Pentagon spending and would finance the increase through dramatic cuts to foreign aid and domestic accounts such as grants to states, environmental programs, and infrastructure.
Complicating matters are a pair of spending “caps” set in law under a failed 2011 budget and debt deal. If Congress tries to spend above the limits, automatic across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration would cut their efforts back. Increasing the caps requires votes from Democrats, however.
Those caps mean the Senate is sticking to a $595 billion budget for the annual Pentagon funding bill; the companion House version weighs in at $650 billion.
The work on spending bills is running on a parallel track to the annual budget debate, which is designed to clear a path for a GOP effort to overhaul the tax code.