WASHINGTON — After repeatedly threatening to cut aid to countries that voted against the United States over its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, US President Donald Trump left foreign assistance to them untouched in his 2019 budget proposal published on Monday.
Despite the threats, 128 countries voted for the December resolution, and aid to all those countries was unaffected in the $4.4 trillion budget plan that envisions steep cuts to America’s social safety net but mounting spending on the military.
“If you look at our budget, it is focused on where we think the most appropriate assistance level should be based on where our security needs are,” said Hari Sastry, director of the Office of US Foreign Assistance Resources.
When asked whether any specific assistance was reduced based on December’s UN vote, Sastry said, “There’s nothing specific just tied to that because that is only one factor.”
The budget also notes that money will need to be allocated for moving the embassy to Jerusalem, which it calls a high priority.
“The construction of a U.S. Embassy facility in Jerusalem will be among the Department’s highest priority for capital security investments in FY 2018 and FY 2019,” the document says.
Last month, the Trump administration announced it was accelerating its transfer of the US Embassy in Israel, with a plan to have the facility ready in Jerusalem by the end of 2019 by using an existing building.
Trump incensed the international community on December 6, when he formally recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and set in motion plans to relocate the US embassy there from Tel Aviv.
The United Nations General Assembly responded to that decision by passing a resolution that condemned Trump’s controversial move. It passed overwhelmingly by a vote of 128-9, despite repeated threats from Trump and other administration officials that the US would not continue to send foreign aid money to countries that voted for the resolution.
“Let them vote against us,” Trump said. “We’ll save a lot. We don’t care. But this isn’t like it used to be where they could vote against you and then you pay them hundreds of millions of dollars. We’re not going to be taken advantage of any longer.”
US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley also said the US would be “taking names,” hinting at punitive measures.
Since then, though, administration officials have sent mixed signals about whether they plan to go through with the threat.
“We will use UN votes as one factor in our foreign relations,” Haley’s office, known as the US Mission to the United Nations, said in a statement shortly after the vote. “It’s not going to be the only factor, or even necessarily the number one factor, but it will no longer be ignored.”
However in his State of the Union address late last month, Trump said he would ask Congress to cut money to countries that voted for the UN resolution.
“I am asking Congress to pass legislation to help ensure American foreign-assistance dollars always serve American interests, and only go to friends of America, not enemies of America,” he said.
The budget unveiled Monday places an emphasis on money for the military and funnels dollars to the Mexico border wall project, while slashing funding for the Affordable Care Act and other domestic programs that benefit the poor and middle class, such as food stamps, housing subsidies and student loans.
“We’re going to have the strongest military we’ve ever had, by far,” Trump said in an Oval Office appearance Monday. “In this budget we took care of the military like it’s never been taken care of before.”
While all presidents’ budgets are essentially dead on arrival — Congress writes and enacts its own spending legislation — Trump’s plan was dead before it landed. It came just three days after the president signed a bipartisan agreement that set broad parameters for spending over the next two years.
That deal, which includes large increases for domestic programs, rendered Monday’s Trump plan for 10-year, $1.7 trillion cuts to domestic agencies such as the departments of Health and Human Services, Agriculture and Housing and Urban Development even more unrealistic. PJC
AP contributed to this report.