Democrats pitch significant increase to international affairs budget

Sens. Chris Murphy and Chris Van Hollen and Reps. David Cicilline and Ami Bera are pitching an additional $12 billion overall which they say “prudently realigns our national security priorities and gives us the tools needed to improve the livelihoods of Americans and address the most pressing threats facing the U.S. and the world.”

A congressional aide told CNN that the lawmakers believe some elements of the proposal could be moved on their own but that the plan unveiled Tuesday could also offer a progressive roadmap for the Biden administration as it develops its budget for the 2022 fiscal year.

In a call with reporters Tuesday, Murphy said he’d spoken “extensively” about the ideas with administration officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan.

“I can’t speak for them. Obviously they’re in the middle of putting together their budget, but I can say I think … there’s much acknowledgment inside the administration that it’s going to be hard for them to win battles abroad without new tools at the State Department and USAID,” he said.

“We’re putting this document out right now in the hopes of impacting the decisions that the administration makes,” Murphy added. “I think there’s a lot of sympathetic voices there, but this is a proposal that we hope will sort of lift their confidence in proposing an increase in their budget they submit to Congress.”

President Joe Biden, Blinken and other national security officials have spoken of the need to reinvigorate and reinvest in diplomacy and relations on the world stage after investments and confidence in these spheres suffered under the Trump administration.
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“If this year has taught us anything, it’s that the biggest threats posed to our country really aren’t foreign armies. This is why it’s so mind-boggling that our Defense Department budget continues to increase by tens of billions of dollars each year, while funding for other vital national security agencies has remained flat,” Connecticut Sen. Murphy said. “We must maintain the strongest military on the planet, but we have to get smarter about the national security challenges that can only be met with non-military solutions.”

“Today’s most pressing challenges, from the COVID-19 pandemic, to a rising China, to the climate crisis, require aid workers that can take vaccines abroad to keep us all safe from the next pandemic, diplomats that can rally our allies and partners in response to China, and negotiators that can bring the world together to prevent the worst of climate change. None of these are military problems,” said California Rep. Bera.

The plan lays out a number of targeted spending increases meant to address the lawmakers’ of focus. In a bid to counter China, they propose an $85 million increase over FY19 to the State Department’s Global Engagement Center, which leads efforts “to recognize, understand, expose, and counter foreign state and non-state propaganda and disinformation efforts aimed at undermining or influencing the policies, security, or stability of the United States, its allies, and partner nations,” according to the agency

It also proposes a significant increase in the spending cap for the US Development Finance Corporation as a means of competing with Beijing’s vast investments in developing nations, which they use to wield softpower influence in those countries.

Maryland’s Van Hollen noted that although the United States has the world’s most powerful military, “China is gaining an upper hand in many parts of the world by leveraging its economic muscle and growing technological prowess.”

“Over the last decade, China has doubled its diplomatic budget and expanded its malign sphere of influence,” said Cicilline of Rhode Island.

The plan also proposes billions of dollars more for global health programs at the State Department and US Agency for International Development and for global health security over FY19.

“We would be fools to maintain the same level of funding for global public health in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the plan states. “A new pandemic could emerge at any moment, and we need to have the resources to stop it before it reaches our shores.”

In addition it calls for renewed investment in the State Department’s and USAID’s workforce — an increase that would allow more personnel at both agencies — as well as massive spending increases in climate change efforts. The Trump administration dismissed and downplayed climate change, but Biden has said it will be a key feature of his national security approach.

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