The Trump administration requested more than a 30% drop in funding for the State Department in 2018 in a budget proposal that was sharply criticized by both Democrats and Republicans as potentially undermining U.S. national security.
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A top member of President Donald Trump's cabinet, Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, appeared to break ranks on the need for such a drastic cut, suggesting in an interview that the final budget would be more balanced.
"I was a governor. I had to do an executive budget," Ms. Haley said during a Middle East swing that is focused on providing aid to Syrian refugees in Turkey and Jordan. "What an executive budget is is the start of a conversation."
Mr. Haley has on a number of occasions publicly pushed foreign policy positions that seemed at odds with those taken by Mr. Trump. This included the need for the U.S. to more forcefully intervene to stop the civil war in Syria.
The Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ed Royce of California, said that proposed cuts to the State Department could hurt the ability of the U.S. to promote its interests around the world.
"I don't support deep cuts," Mr. Royce said in a statement. "Diplomacy matters. It helps keep America strong, and our troops out of combat."
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The Trump administration seeks a 32% decrease in funding for the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development, down to $37.6 billion from about $55 billion, according to the request made to Congress. The 2018 budget also includes a 29% cut in foreign assistance to $25.3 billion.
"[The budget] acknowledges that U.S. diplomacy engagement and aid programs must be more efficient and more effective, and that advancing our national security, our economic interests, and our values will remain our primary mission," Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a letter accompanying the State Department's budget request.
The U.S. will contribute $5.3 billion in humanitarian assistance funds in 2018 under the Trump budget proposal, a 31% decrease. Officials said the U.S. would still be the largest in the world in this area by at least $2 billion, based on historic funding levels of other countries.
Additionally, the full budget proposed Tuesday would significantly cut back on contributions to international organizations and the United Nations. Bilateral economic assistance, foreign military financing and global health funding will also face deep cuts.
The State Department budget eliminates funding for two climate change initiatives, the Global Climate Change Initiative and the Green Climate fund. It also cuts all assistance for family planning.
In Jordan this week, Ms. Haley toured facilities and programs funded by Unicef, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and other agencies that are likely to be affected by the deep cuts. In those visits she asked the organizations how the U.S. could do more to help them.
"He had to show some signs," she said, in reference to Mr. Trump's budget. "It's starting the conversation. That doesn't mean that's where it's going to end up."
Lawmakers as well as aid and advocacy groups were swift to criticize Mr. Trump's proposal for the State Department and USAID.
Sen. Ben Cardin (D., Md.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the budget "is dead on arrival."
Health organizations said the budget cuts could harm progress in poverty reduction.
"Severe spending cuts in education and foreign aid threaten the prosperity and security of Americans and people around the world by reducing economic opportunity and making the world less stable," said Sue Desmond-Hellmann, chief executive officer of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Hari Sastry, director of the State Department's Office of U.S. Foreign Assistance Resources, said the Trump administration will implement whatever Congress and the administration agree on.
"There will be legal obligations in that bill as far as what we have to spend, what we are allowed to spend... and we intend to stick to those," he said.
Write to Felicia Schwartz at Felicia.Schwartz@wsj.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
May 23, 2017 19:58 ET (23:58 GMT)