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Bigger bottles, old wine; The State Department and drunken spending


Washington, May 13, 2009 -

This afternoon, a top State Department official came before the House Foreign Affairs Committee to present the Administration's budget request for international spending, released last week.  The hearing comes on the heels of new budget numbers projecting an expanding budget deficit.  As the Associated Press reported earlier this week, "The government will have to borrow nearly 50 cents for every dollar it spends this year, exploding the record federal deficit past $1.8 trillion under new White House estimates." (My emphasis.) Where will that money be borrowed from?  You guessed it -- mostly from China. 

To contend with the rising tide of red ink, the Obama Administration's budget proposed to reduce or eliminate just $17 billion throughout the entire government.  To put it in perspective, for every two dollars spent, just one penny would be cut.  And of this $17 billion in cuts, only $9 million is eliminated from the Department of State.  All in all, international affairs spending has ballooned from $25 billion in 2002 to $43 billion in 2008.  It is difficult to believe that there is only $9 million dollars in savings to be found at the State Department.

And then there is the U.S. Agency for International Development.  Let's be honest.  No one I know views USAID as being anywhere near an efficient organization.  Yet, the proposed budget would provide its bureaucracy a $500 million increase for operations.  This hardly sends a signal that reform is needed. 

The Obama Administration is quick to point out that we can not deal with challenges to our country "by military means alone" to justify its spending increases.  But who has ever really advocated that?  It is a straw man.  We have long had public diplomacy, development and cultural programs.  Instead of a realistic appraisal of these programs, warts and all, the Obama Administration seems to just be spending more on old approaches and giving it a new label: smart power.  New -- bigger bottles -- but old wine. 

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