Under the Budget Control Act of 2011, the international affairs budget falls under the security cap.* Many are worried that international affairs will fare poorly competing against political favorites like Defense and Veterans. But as the chart below shows, 150 doesn’t do so well outside the security fence either—where it was in the 1990s.*
Discretionary spending caps were first set under the Budget Enforcement Act of 1990 and other legislation through FY2002. From FY1998 through FY2002, the caps were amended or otherwise evaded. From FY1990 to FY1998, however, the caps successfully reined in discretionary spending, which increased an average of only 1.6% each year. But the international affairs budget was not just reined in: it steadily declined as a percentage of nondefense discretionary spending, from 10% in FY1990 to 7.2% in FY1997.
As BFAD’s Gordon Adams says, “It’s dangerous either way. Being inside the security cap when resources are declining is not an attractive option. That said, [the nondefense discretionary cap] was equally dangerous, because the elephants that support a lot of the nondefense discretionary spending, while not quite as well-funded as the defense department, are equally capable of trampling international affairs on their way by. So it’s kind of damned if you do and damned if you don’t.”
Given that international affairs funding is critical to our national security, maybe it will fare better under the security cap than it did in the 1990s.
*In FY91-93, there were discretionary spending caps for defense, domestic, and international affairs; in FY94-97 and FY00-02 there was a single cap for discretionary spending; in FY98-99, discretionary spending was divided into defense and nondefense.