Republican National Committee tweets in recent days have attacked a Democratic-sponsored bill in the House as “immoral” because it “would spend $54 billion taxpayer dollars on foreign countries” but not address “the border crisis here at home.”
But that’s the same amount that Republican-controlled appropriations committees approved in June for the State Department’s operations and programs, which includes foreign assistance.
The misleading tweets from the RNC appear to take their cue from comments made by President Donald Trump during a cabinet meeting on the day of the House vote.
Trump, Jan. 3: Now, the Democrats, in the bill, want $12 billion additional for foreign aid. They want $12 billion more. It’s $54.4 billion, which is by itself a lot, but in foreign aid they want $12 billion over the $54 billion. Think of it. We give $54 billion, a lot of it because they want to give it. They don’t even know who they’re giving it to. In many cases, people don’t ever — don’t even know the name of the country. They know nothing about the country, and yet — so they’re going to give 54.4 billion in foreign aid but they want 12 billion more than that in foreign aid but they won’t approve $5.6 billion for a wall that’s going to pay for itself almost on a monthly basis.
Trump’s account represents a trifecta of bad information.
The House bill, which passed largely along party lines, does not seek $12 billion more than current spending levels. It seeks $54.4 billion, a little less than 1 percent more than the current spending level.
It’s also the same amount approved by Republican-led congressional appropriations committees last summer.
And, finally, it is wrong to call the entire $54 billion “foreign aid.” About $16 billion of that amount is for State Department operations.
A ‘Pelosi Plan’ for Foreign Aid?
With its new majority in the House, Democrats passed a bill Jan. 3 to fund various parts of the government through Sept. 30. It passed 241-190, with every Democrat and seven Republicans supporting it. That plan includes a little over $54.4 billion in “Department of State, foreign operations and related programs” funding.
The bill did not include the $5.6 billion in additional funding for border wall construction the president seeks, despite Trump’s vow that he would veto a spending bill without that wall funding. Due to the president’s veto threat, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would not bring up the bill in the Senate. The government is in a partial shutdown pending resolution of the issue.
A day after the bill passed, the RNC tweeted an image of Pelosi and text that said, “This is immoral: Instead of addressing the border crisis here at home, the Pelosi plan would spend $54 billion taxpayer money on foreign countries.”
THIS IS IMMORAL — RT if you AGREE! pic.twitter.com/xjlkoPKxHB
— GOP (@GOP) January 4, 2019
The RNC tweeted the same image on Jan. 7, along with the additional comment that the $54 billion was “$12 billion over President Trump’s request.”
A review of the legislative history of funding for the State Department and foreign operations shows why it is misleading, however, to link that $54 billion amount solely to the Democrats.
In February of 2018, the Trump administration released a fiscal year 2019 budget that would have reduced funding for the “Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs” to about $42 billion, according to a Congressional Research Service analysis. That was a proposed cut of about $12 billion from fiscal 2018.
But the Republican-controlled House and Senate appropriations committees balked.
Although the White House budget had called for slashing the State Department spending bill by about 22 percent, Republican Reps. Rodney Frelinghuysen, who chaired the committee, and Hal Rogers, who chaired the State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Subcommittee, justified the higher amount as necessary to the keep America secure.
Frelinghuysen, June 20: This bill provides funding to ensure that America remains secure and that our diplomats and allies around the world have the tools they need to increase stability during this volatile time of international threats and unease. It will help advance peaceful and effective solutions to the many rising challenges facing the nation and the globe – including terrorism, threats from nuclear and chemical weapons, and emergency response efforts.
Rogers, June 20: In the face of unprecedented challenges around the globe from terrorism and violent extremism, transnational crime and drugs, and humanitarian crises, I am proud that this legislation continues to strengthen our diplomatic and development tools – core components of our nation’s security framework … In particular, this bill prioritizes funding for embassy security, combatting drug trafficking, global health and humanitarian assistance, and countering Russian aggression while maintaining vigilant oversight of every dollar spent.
Democratic Rep. Nita Lowey, who was ranking Democrat on committee at the time, said the GOP budget bill avoided the White House’s “irresponsible FY 2019 proposal to cut our diplomatic and development efforts.” Still, she opposed the bill, arguing that it should have invested more in the country’s overseas efforts.
The Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously passed a bill the following day to provide $54.4 billion for the State Department, foreign operations and related programs.
Republican Sens. Richard Shelby, chairman of the appropriations committee, and Lindsey Graham, chairman of the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, praised the funding bill, which was never voted on by the full Senate.
Shelby, June 21: This bill works to ensure that our foreign assistance funding is both effective and efficient. Additionally, it provides the appropriate resources for programs impacting global health. Whether for humanitarian, diplomatic, or national security purposes, foreign aid programs can play a role in preserving the security of the United States.
Graham, June 21: First and foremost, this is a national security bill. This bill makes America safer by supporting critical diplomatic efforts around the world, providing security assistance for our allies, directing stabilization assistance for areas in chaos due to conflict, and supporting life-saving health and humanitarian assistance to people in dire need. The challenges we face are increasingly dynamic and complex, with hostile regimes seeking to undermine our standing on the world’s stage at every turn. Now is not the time for retreat. This bill signals to the world that America is not backing away from its role as the leader of the free world.”
Whether that spending level is “immoral,” as the GOP tweet put it, is a matter of opinion. But it is misleading to cite that figure as “The Pelosi’s Plan.” The $54 billion included in the House bill was “virtually identical” to the amount in the bill that passed unanimously out of the Senate appropriations committee in June, Mike Burns, a spokesman for Lowey, told us.
Not an Additional $12 Billion
The president was also wrong to suggest the Democratic bill sought an additional $12 billion over the current spending level of about $54 billion.
As we said, the Democratic-sponsored House bill mirrored the $54.4 billion in the Senate appropriations bill that was about 1 percent higher than current funding. Rather, $12 billion is the amount Trump sought to slash from current funding levels, as the RNC’s Jan. 7 tweet accurately stated. But neither Democrats nor Republicans in the House and Senate appropriations committees supported that cut.
Trump was also wrong to characterize the entire amount as “foreign aid.” According to staffers in Lowey’s office, about half of that $54 billion goes to USAID for international development and humanitarian efforts and other State Department assistance such as global health, economic support and development assistance — all of which could certainly be described as foreign aid. But it also includes about $16 billion for State Department operations and embassy security, according to a breakdown of funding in the bill passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee provided by Lowey’s office.
Finally, Trump repeated the dubious claim that “$5.6 billion for a wall” would “pay for itself almost on a monthly basis.” As we have written, Trump claimed that the wall “probably would pay for itself in a month or two because we lose pretty close to $250 billion on illegal immigration” — but there is no support for that cost estimate.