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.