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Obama Seeks $50 Billion for Foreign Relations Budget


FILE - U.S. aid supports work by the U.S. Agency for International Development. Here, an engineer surveys the site of a power plant being built, with USAID’s help, near Kenya's Lake Baringo. (Courtesy USAID)

FILE - U.S. aid supports work by the U.S. Agency for International Development. Here, an engineer surveys the site of a power plant being built, with USAID’s help, near Kenya's Lake Baringo. (Courtesy USAID)

The Obama administration is seeking just over $50 billion to support diplomatic and aid efforts that would maintain America’s global leadership and leverage, a senior U.S. State Department official said Monday.

"Our budget request reflects what is needed to ensure that the United States remains powerfully engaged on the myriad issues that directly impact the security, prosperity and values of the American people," Deputy Secretary Heather Higginbottom said.

The request is part of President Barack Obama’s $4 trillion spending plan for 2016, introduced Monday.

The proposed $50.3 billion allocation includes a base request of $43.2 billion to support ongoing and emerging national security challenges, security commitments to allies and partners, conflict prevention, weapons nonproliferation and global peacekeeping activities.

Another $7 billion is being sought for overseas contingency operations, to respond to immediate and extraordinary national security requirements, Higginbottom said.

She said the funds "will support critical programs and operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, as well as exceptional costs related to our efforts to fight ISIL" – an acronym for the Islamic State militant group – and "respond to the conflict in Syria and support Ukraine."

Higginbottom added that the budget request represents a 6 percent increase over last year.

Plan criticized

But Jennifer Harris, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, pointed out that the State Department portion of the federal budget comes in at less than 10 percent of the $534 billion base budget requested for the Defense Department.

Harris told VOA that ratio is "wildly" incompatible with the threats and challenges in the world.

"It’s not clear to me that the greatest challenges the U.S. faces in the world today are predominantly military in nature," she said. "Putting 90 percent more dollars to more military hardware when it seems like an area where the U.S. already has hyperdominance is not necessarily the best return on investment."

Harris revised her comment later, saying she had meant to say "putting 90 percentage points more to military hardware" instead of "90 percent more dollars."

President Obama has said the problems in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and other regions afflicted by violence cannot be fixed with military might alone. But Harris also cautioned that simply increasing State Department funds is not necessarily the answer. Bureaucratic hurdles and contentious relations with Congress, she said, in the past have led to missed opportunities in places like Egypt.

Flexibility in how the State Department and Pentagon are allowed to use funding is "more important than the sheer sums involved," Harris said.

Obama’s spending plan is expected to face stiff opposition from the Republican-led Congress when it comes to voting on the numbers.

*Editor’s note: After her interview with VOA, Jennifer Harris clarified her comment regarding military spending.

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    Sharon Behn

    Sharon Behn is a foreign correspondent working out of Voice of America’s headquarters in Washington D.C  Her current beat focuses on political, security and humanitarian developments in Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Follow Sharon on Twitter and on Facebook.

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