A technical error in bill-drafting is accomplishing what pitched battles on the floor of Congress sometimes fail to produce: a cut in U.S. foreign affairs spending, to the tune of $395 million.
Lawmakers plan to restore the lost money when the 102nd Congress convenes in January. In the meantime, the cut is small enough - 1.9 percent of a $20 billion foreign operations budget - that bureaucrats will be able to minimize the effects by juggling other funds, officials said.But the slip-up is an embarrassing one, coming on the heels of a yearlong budget war between President Bush and congressional Democrats that polls say added to the public's lack of faith in government officials.
Administration and congressional aides, who discussed the blunder on condition of anonymity, agreed that the mistake was made late last month during Congress' dash to finish its business and adjourn for the year.
"It's too bad we couldn't change it," said one congressional official. "But everyone was gone by the time we figured it out."
But once committed, the error forces across-the-board cuts under new budget procedures Congress also enacted in the hours before its departure.
All foreign operations spending will be reduced by 1.9 percent until the money is restored - including foreign aid, operations of the State Department and its embassies, and U.S. contributions to the United Nations and other international organizations.
"At this point, the State Department and other international agencies and OMB are working to see there is as minimal an impact resulting from this as possible," said State Department spokeswoman Nancy Beck.
OMB is the Office of Management and Budget, the White House agency that oversees federal spending.
An administration official said the slashes probably would be triggered on Friday.