58 OCTOBER 2019 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019: Opportunities and Implications AFSA ON THE HILL | BY KIM GREENPLATE Despite the fact that the House and Senate are con- trolled by different parties, Congress reached a biparti- san budget deal this summer, and the president signed it into law in early August. Under the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019, the new discretionary defense and non-defense caps for Fiscal Years 2020 and 2021 mark an end to the sequestra- tion threat that has plagued federal spending for most of this decade. Without this deal, auto- matic spending cuts would have reduced discretionary spending by 10 percent in 2020 through a mechanism put in place by the Budget Control Act of 2011. The 2019 budget deal allows for an increase of more than $100 billion in funding for non-defense domestic priorities over the 2017 level (the non-defense funding cap was $518.5 bil- lion in FY2017 and is $621.5 billion in FY2020). Specifi- cally, the deal increased the FY2020 non-defense spend- ing cap by $24.5 billion over FY2019. But the increase for non-defense spending is a concern for some members of Congress, as the deal contains a limited number of fiscal offsets, including certain customs user fees and the extension of manda- tory spending sequestration through 2027, that are not even enough to cover the additional interest spending from this bill. Further, the deal was passed with no long-term plan to lower the federal deficit, and many say the new caps will recklessly increase federal spending. Despite these concerns, the 2019 budget agreement offers a brighter outlook for the international affairs budget over the next two fis- cal years. While the FY2020 non-defense cap is $15 billion less than House Democrats initially sought, it still repre- sents a boost of almost 4.5 percent above the compa- rable FY2019 number. In FY2019, non-defense Overseas Contingency Opera- tions funding made up 14 percent of the international affairs budget. AFSA was pleased to see OCO caps for FY2020 and FY2021 stay the same, at FY2019’s $8 billion. However, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019 is just the first step toward final FY2020 funding. With caps in place for the next two fiscal years, there is momentum in Congress to finalize FY2020 appropria- tions that reject the adminis- tration’s proposed cuts to the international affairs budget. Keep in mind that Repub- lican House members voted against the chamber’s appropriations bills in both the committee and on the floor this summer, at least partly because there was no budget deal in place to control spending. Even in the event of a continuing resolution to fund all or part of the federal government this fall, state- ments from members of Congress suggest that the final FY2020 appropriations package, whenever it may pass, will reject the proposed cuts that have threatened the international affairs budget in FY2018, FY2019 and FY2020. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), a co-chair of the Senate Foreign Service Cau- cus, said at a FY2020 USAID budget request hearing earlier this year: “I just want to second the comments of the chairman [Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.] with respect to the budget that was sub- mitted. It’s totally inadequate to support important U.S. foreign policy goals, and I’m confident this committee will address that.” AFSA has worked to solid- ify this bipartisan support for development and diplomacy funding on the Hill. It is important to remem- ber that the international affairs budget is just a small portion of non-defense spending, competing for the same dollars as veterans, childhood development pro- grams, and other domestic priorities. While AFSA applauds the 2019 budget deal as a cata- lyst for Congress to move for- ward with appropriations on a bipartisan basis, the inter- national affairs budget must still be prioritized among the many competing priorities. AFSA’s message to the Hill has been and will continue to be that the 1 percent of the federal budget the United States spends on develop- ment and diplomacy is a cost-effective way to advance America’s interests. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019 presents Congress with the opportunity to showcase its unified sup- port for the international affairs budget over the next two fiscal years. n AFSA’s message to the Hill has been and will continue to be that the 1 percent of the federal budget the United States spends on development and diplomacy is a cost-effective way to advance America’s interests.