U.S. President Barack Obama pauses while speaking at an inter-faith memorial service for the victims of the bombing at the Boston Marathon in Boston

Built in to President Obama’s budget proposal for 2014 is a $580 million contingency fund to address the turmoil roiling the Middle East and North Africa, to be spent across the region over the course of the year at the discretion of the White House and the State Department.

That sum is striking some members of the Congress as too large for an administration without a coherent policy toward the Arab Spring.

But officials familiar with the package say that the half-billion dollar fund is not a meaningful military contingency fund for the unforeseen as much as a placeholder for the White House, until the administration figures out what to actually request for specific missions.

As large as the number may sound, it supplements the State Department’s request for $47.8 billion in discretionary funding for international development – a six percent decrease from last year’s request. Additionally, the budget details an increase in embassy security funding of $2.2 billion in the wake of the Benghazi attacks.

“As a rule of thumb, presidents prefer flexibility, and members of Congress prefer to constrain the executive,” says Jack Pitney, professor of government at Claremont McKenna College in California.

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