Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

The Obameter

Double U.S. spending on foreign aid to $50 billion a year by 2012


"Barack Obama would target this new spending towards strategic goals, including helping the world's weakest states to build democratic institutions, foster healthy and educated communities, reduce poverty and generate wealth."


Updates

An increase, but nowhere close to double

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised to double U.S. spending on foreign aid to $50 billion a year by 2012. But it hasn't happened.

As we did the last time we looked at this promise, we checked the budget figures since Obama entered office. This was a little tricky, since there's no single line item in the budget called "foreign aid.” So we chose the the line covering budget authority for "international development and humanitarian assistance.”

Keeping consistent with our prior methodology, we're refraining from rating whether Obama reached the $50 billion figure, since we may be using parameters for foreign aid that are different than the administration's. But we do think it's fair to use these budget numbers to rate whether Obama has set the U.S. on a path toward double U.S. foreign aid.

Here are the numbers:

Fiscal year 2008: $19.216 billion
Fiscal year 2009: $20.294 billion
Fiscal year 2010: $25.445 billion
Fiscal year 2011: $22.924 billion
Fiscal year 2012 (estimated): $23.292 billion
Fiscal year 2013 (proposed): $23.709 billion

If you use as a baseline fiscal year 2009, then Obama's proposal for 2013 works out to a boost of roughly 23 percent over four years. That's well short of double what it was when Obama took office. And these totals don't take into account inflation, which reduces the purchasing power of these funding increases.

An increase of 23 percent isn't close to the promised 100 percent increase, so we rate this a Promise Broken.

Sources:

White House, presidential budget request -- Table 32-1, Budget Authority By Function, Category, and Program, fiscal 2013

White House,presidential budget request -- Table 27-14. Current Services Budget Authority and Outlays by Function, Category, and Program, fiscal 2012

Spending is up, but nowhere near double -- and significant increases seem unlikely

During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised to double U.S. spending on foreign aid to $50 billion a year by 2012. But it's been a difficult task.

As we noted the last time we looked at this promise, Obama's proposed 2010 budget included a paragraph under the heading "Put the United States on a path to double foreign assistance," though it didn't specify a time frame.

"It has become clear over the past decade that all the elements of American power must be developed to protect our people, interests and values," the proposed budget stated. "That is why the administration is committed to placing the nation on a path to double foreign assistance to $50 billion.”

We looked back at the budget figures since Obama entered office to see how far the administration had gone toward fulfilling its goal. It was a little tricky, since there's no single line item in the budget called "foreign aid.”

But while there are a number of ways to calculate foreign aid, the closest we came was a line item in the budget authority chart -- "international development and humanitarian assistance” under the heading "international relations.”

Here's how that budget line evolved over the past few fiscal years:

Fiscal year 2008: $19.216 billion
Fiscal year 2009: $20.294 billion
Fiscal year 2010: $25.445 billion
Fiscal year 2011: (estimated): $22.924 billion
Fiscal year 2012: (proposed): $23.292 billion

Out of caution, we'll refrain from rating whether Obama reached the $50 billion figure, since we're using parameters for foreign aid that may be different than the administration's. But we do think it's fair to use these budget numbers to rate whether Obama has set the U.S. on a path to double U.S. foreign aid.

If you use as a baseline fiscal year 2009 -- the last budget fully shaped and enacted under President George W. Bush -- then Obama has proposed a boost of almost 15 percent over three years. And that"s well short of double what it was three years ago -- it's also a slow enough rate of increase that it would take about two decades for the U.S. to double its foreign aid funding. And that"s even before factoring in inflation, which would reduce the real-world increase in funding.

There are other obstacles facing this promise. The recently concluded debt-ceiling deal imposes discretionary spending caps as well as a "super-committee” charged with finding trillions of dollars in additional cuts over the next decade. This will make it hard for any new spending initiative to find enough money to double its 2009 level.

And that's especially true for foreign aid, which is never especially popular among American voters but is especially toxic now in a time of high unemployment and significant budgetary pressures. And with Republicans in control of the House -- and many in their caucus backed by pro-spending-cut supporters of the tea party -- foreign aid is just about the least likely line item to see a boost in the coming years.

We considered rating this item a Compromise, under the logic that while a 15 percent increase isn't double, it's still an increase for a relatively unpopular budget item. But 15 percent isn't really close to the promised 100 percent increase, and the opposition by Republican lawmakers to foreign-aid funding makes future cuts likelier than future increases. Because Obama still has time to make progress on this promise, we won"t call it a Promise Broken yet. But we do think it faces a hard enough road forward to justify a rating of Stalled.

Sources:

White House, presidential budget request for the State Department, fiscal 2010

White House, presidential budget request -- Table 24–14. Current Services Outlays by Function, Category, and Program, fiscal 2010

White House, presidential budget request -- Table 27-14. Current Services Budget Authority and Outlays by Function, Category, and Program, fiscal 2012

Budget talks of doubling foreign aid, but doesn't say by when

While the proposed 2010 budget put forth by the White House in February would seem to put this promise on the right track — there's a paragraph under the heading "Put the United States on a path to double foreign assistance" — it's less clear whether President Barack Obama intends to stick to his pledge to reach that milestone by the end of his first term, as promised.

"It has become clear over the past decade that all the elements of American power must be developed to protect our people, interests, and values," the proposed budget states. "That is why the administration is committed to placing the nation on a path to double foreign assistance to $50 billion.

"Doing so, the United States will reach out to the global community, lay the groundwork for stability and security at home and abroad, and strengthen its role as a leader in global development and diplomacy. These are important investments that will help bring stability to other parts of the globe and greater security for our nation."

But while the budget reinforces the goal of doubling foreign aid, it does not provide any deadline. In fact, the budget doesn't give any time frame at all.

According to a March 23, 2009, article in the Christian Science Monitor, the economic downturn has caused the administration to hint that Obama may not double foreign aid by the end of his first term. The proposed 2010 budget includes a 10 percent increase in foreign aid, but according to the article, "the White House Office of Management and Budget speaks of 'extending out' the goal of doubling foreign aid — presumably into what officials envision as a second term for the president."

We'll have to wait to see whether Obama sticks to his 2012 deadline. But since there's an increase in foreign aid in his proposed budget, and since the budget document talks about putting the United States "on a path to double foreign assistance," we think there's enough to move this to In the Works.

Sources:

Office of Budget and Management, Budget Documents for Fiscal Year 2010 , Feb. 26, 2009

Christian Science Monitor, "Economy forces Obama to rein in foreign-aid goals," by Howard LaFranchi, March 23, 2009