US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sought Tuesday to downplay proposed State Department budget cuts, saying Donald Trump’s administration was merely returning spending to levels seen before its predecessor.
Trump’s administration on Monday requested $39.3 billion for the State Department and USAID, as part of its financial plans for the 2019 fiscal year which Congress is expected to reject.
Tillerson said in Kuwait on Tuesday the proposal “represents basically returning to budgetary levels that were in place before the run-up during the last administration”.
“It’s important to reflect on what we are measuring from. And the percentages that you quote are all historic record-high budgets for the State Department.
“We’re confident that we have the resources we need to execute against the President’s foreign policy objectives.”
In 2017, the last year of the previous US 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.
Both Republicans and Democrats have argued that such a reduction would be dangerous, with American diplomats working on a number of international crises.
Tillerson has commissioned a “re-design” of the State Department, despite resistance from career staff, and is struggling to fill key senior posts.
The top US diplomat is in Kuwait for a meeting of the American-led coalition that has been fighting the Islamic State group.