Freedom House: Cutting Democracy Funds Will Hurt U.S. Interests

US President Donald J. Trump signing a bill
US President Donald J. Trump. Photo: Reuters

The cuts proposed by the Trump administration to democracy assistance funds will harm the U.S. and global security, a U.S. watchdog said on Monday.

“The Administration’s proposed cuts to democracy assistance would have harmful effects on democracy and security around the globe,” Freedom House President Michael J. Abramowitz said in a statement.

Earlier in the day, the White House released President Donald J. Trump’s FY 2019 budget request, which proposes nearly 40 percent cut to the funding for democracy programs. Under the proposal, the funds will drop to $1.4 billion from $2.3 billion in fiscal years 2016 and 2017. Specifically, the National Endowment of Democracy may receive $67.2 million compared to $170 million in FY 2016-2017, or a 60 percent cut.

Mr. Abramowitz said the democracy programming is the United States’ best tool for strengthening its own security and economy by helping build vibrant, stable partners.

“Democracy programs, which make up only 0.05 percent of the federal budget, are cost-effective investments toward the administration’s goal of promoting peace and prosperity,” he added.

Skinny at State

Even though the State Department has just published its budget proposal for 2019, Congress has already dismissed the idea as a non-starter.

In the case of the State Department and USAID, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson requested $37.8 billion, up only slightly from the $37.6 billion 2018 request.

In 2017, the last year of the previous U.S. administration, the department spent $55.6 billion, so if Congress — which is working on a joint budget for 2018 and 2019 — had approved the 2018 request, it would have meant a more than 30 percent cut.

Instead, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle argued that such a draconian reduction would be dangerous, with U.S. diplomats working on a number of international crises.

Mr. Tillerson has commissioned a “re-design” of the State Department, despite resistance from career staff, and he is struggling to fill key senior posts. When last year’s authorization request was filed, Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said even studying it would be a “waste of time.”

Mr. Corker’s colleague Senator Lindsey Graham said the 2018 plan was “dead on arrival,” adding: “This budget destroys soft power, it puts our diplomats at risk and it’s going nowhere.”

Although the top line figure remains around the same as the previous suggestion, Mr. Tillerson’s latest plan does move some funding around to take into account new U.S. priorities. The budget line for “embassy security, construction and maintenance,” for example, increases from $1.42 billion in the 2018 plan to $1.66 billion in the 2019 draft.

This comes as the White House pushes to accelerate implementation of its controversial decision to relocate the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The First Wave of Autocracy [Democracy in Decline]