|Not baloney, but Cuban ham made from algae|
The three officials who briefed reporters refused to allow their names to be used. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell explained the conditions of the briefing:
This session is on background. We have State and AID officials, so since there’s a mix, let’s just call this Administration officials. (Inaudible). I’ll let the three of them introduce themselves very briefly, and then I’ll moderate the questions. So let’s go ahead. You want to start?The officials didn't mention Cuba by name, but talked about Economic Support Funds, which Cuba receives.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Sure. I’m [Senior Administration Official One]. I’m [position withheld].
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: [Senior Administration Official Two], [position withheld].
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: [Senior Administration Official Three], [position withheld].
The briefing (download six-page transcript) was enlightening because it showed that federal budget can be both peculiar and complex.
A reporter identified as Josh asked the first question.
QUESTION: Okay. Can we talk about the fact that Europe, Eurasia, South Central Asia – I’m looking at page 11 in the briefing book, where it says assistance to those countries will be zeroed out.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Well, right.
QUESTION: Let me finish. And democracy funding, 115 million zeroed out. And migration and refugee assistance, minus 250 million, which is all in the OCO, which is --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: So let me explain the – Europe – and this is Europe and Central Asia money and the democracy. Those are – we’ve traditionally funded assistance in Europe, Eurasia, and Central Asia in a separate account. This year, we are taking those funds and we are funding those programs in our normal assistance accounts – economic support funds, the INL programs, and global health programs. So if you look at the tables in the back, you’ll see those countries funded. We’re discontinuing that account.
That account was set up – it had morphed over time but it originally – 20 years ago when the Berlin Wall fell, it was a separate set of accounts that were set up for that region. Twenty years have gone by, several countries have graduated into market democracy, into the international institutions – the EU, NATO – and we felt it was time to sort of normalize the assistance for those countries in the regular budget so that we no longer have a separate carve-out. So there is money in the budget for those reasons.
The same thing with Democracy Fund. The Democracy Fund is something that Congress always provides us as a distinct account. We have put the democracy money into the Economic Support Fund account. We do this every year. So it looks like it’s a zeroing out, but it really isn’t a zeroing out. You have to kind of go into the depth of the budget to sort of get that.Thank you, Senior Anonymous Official No. 1. That was a perfectly clear explanation. But it really wasn't perfectly clear. You have to go in depth to get that.