House’s Budget Guts International Aid

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February 16, 2011; Source: The Washington Post | It may be surprising, but as the president is promoting his Fiscal Year 2012 budget proposals, the House of Representatives is still trying to finish the Fiscal Year 2011 discretionary budget. Because Congress never really finalized a budget for the current year, the nation has been operating on the basis of a "continuing resolution" to extend previous years spending levels, as Senate Republicans blocked an omnibus spending bill.

One area of huge cuts would be in the nation's foreign aid programs. The proposed FY2011 budget cuts international food aid programs by half. Aid for refugees, which rose to $1.7 billion according to Republicans (only $1.3 billion according to State Department officials) would be rolled back to $1 billion, the FY2008 level, amounting to a cut of 40 percent.

U.S. government contributions to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis would be cut by 40 percent and funding for the much larger President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (a Bush Administration initiative) would shrink by 8 percent. The International Disaster Assistance Fund would be cut by two-thirds, a potentially crippling decision.

The chair of the House subcommittee that deals with foreign aid, Kay Granger (R-TX), said that the deep cuts in foreign aid were necessary to preserve funding for national security, such as military assistance for Israel and Egypt. That's not a persuasive argument. Foreign aid comprises less than 1 percent of the federal budget. Slashing foreign aid isn't going to do much for the military.

Perhaps Representative Granger might do well to remember the words of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (who held the position in the Bush and Obama administrations). At the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition conference last September, Gates cogently defended foreign aid with the statement, "Development is a lot cheaper than sending soldiers." (PDF). Like most military people nowadays, Gates knows that investing in foreign aid isn't just "cost avoidance," as he said at the conference, but it improves the lives of people in developing countries and saves lives. As Tom Hart, the director of government relations at ONE put it, "There are very few places in the federal budget where funding translates into lives saved. And this is one of them."—Rick Cohen