Eighteen former senators urged appropriators this week not to shortchange the diplomacy and development account amid concerns that statutory limits on discretionary spending make the foreign aid budget vulnerable to cuts.

“We appreciate the enormous decisions currently facing the Senate and understand that you continue to work under a constrained budget environment,” reads the letter sent on Monday to the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate Appropriations Committee and subcommittee for State-Foreign Operations. “However, today America faces unprecedented global challenges, including rapidly increasing humanitarian crises, while funding for International Affairs has been cut by 12 percent since FY10 when adjusted for inflation, and base funding has declined 30 percent in that same period.”

Among the signatories are former Senate majority leaders William H. Frist and Thomas A. Daschle and former Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Richard G. Lugar and Ben Nelson. The letter was organized by the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, a foreign aid advocacy umbrella group.

The Obama administration has requested almost $52.8 billion in mandatory and discretionary fiscal 2017 funding for the State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development and other aid initiatives.

Approximately 28 percent of that amount is proposed to come from Overseas Contingency Operations -- war funds that are not subject to budget caps. Last December’s bipartisan fiscal 2016 spending deal is estimated by the Congressional Research Service to have provided roughly $100 million more than what the administration has requested this year.

Foreign aid advocates have criticized the administration’s proposal as being insufficient, given the number of crises around the world where the United States is looked to to set the example for humanitarian aid contributions. Advocates also are upset at the continued shifting of money out of the State-Foreign Operations budget and into the OCO account, which is supposed to sunset at some point.

The House signaled last month it was considering cutting into the foreign aid account when the Budget Committee released a report accompanying its fiscal 2017 Budget Resolution (H Con Res 125) that recommended $39.8 billion in total budget authority for the International Affairs account, which in addition to State Department and USAID funding also includes money for the Agriculture Department’s Food for Peace program.

This week, though, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the chamber would begin work on appropriations bills in a few weeks and subcommittee allocations would be set based on the discretionary limits established by last year’s bipartisan budget agreement (PL 114-74). That means there is a good chance the State-Foreign Operations account will be somewhat higher than what was recommended by the House Budget Committee.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, the top Democrat on the State-Foreign Operations Appropriations subcommittee, sounded unperturbed when asked if he was concerned conservative opposition in the House would make it difficult to get a strong foreign aid bill passed.

“It’ll be interesting,” the senior senator from Vermont said. “We’ll see how they vote. I was surprised a couple of years ago that every Republican voted against aid to Israel and everything else in the foreign aid bill, but eventually we’ll get it done.”

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