Today, February 16th, marks a new level of irresponsible Congressional spending, just not in the way it is typically criticized. Republicans in the House of Representatives have proposed a series of cuts to the National Budget that focus in on international humanitarian policies of the United States. While many Americans, and maybe their Representatives, believe that U.S. foreign aid is a high percentage of our national spending, it actually accounts for less than 1% of our budget, but that less than 1% betters the lives of millions around the world, making the world a safer place for everyone and every nation, including the United States. According to Representative Steve Rothman (D- N.J.):
“Our country would be less secure if we removed our diplomatic presence from the would be a detriment to our national security if the United States didn’t have Americans who know foreign languages, live in countries throughout the world, and understand the cultures, ways of thinking, and history of those nations.” http://www.modernizingforeignassistance.org/blog/2011/02/16/house-appropriator-warns-against-cuts-in-foreign-assistance/
Democrats are not the only ones who are skeptical of these proposed cuts. Senator John McCain (R – A.Z.), when asked if he considered diplomacy and development funding to be important pillars of American national security, replied, “Yes, I do.”
In addition to the real security benefits of fostering goodwill for the United States in an age of increased global crime, including terrorism, there very serious moral implications that have to be considered when looking at the proposed budget cuts. Global health programs, contributions to international organizations and financial institutions and disaster assistance are among the programs on the chopping block as are the development assistance and economic support fund accounts, large portions of which go to places such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran.
There are currently more than $800 million in cuts proposed to international food aid and other global hunger programs. This would affect more than 18 million people, leading to needless suffering and deaths. These cuts include $700 million in proposed cuts to the emergency food assistance budget, which would end food assistance for 15 million people facing extreme hunger in the wake of emergencies, and $100 million in proposed cuts to the international school meals budget, which would take away school meals for 2.5 million children around the world. These cuts are happening just as food prices around the world have hit their highest levels ever. Food prices have already been causing unrest in Northern Africa and the Middle East. Without food assistance, we could see this unrest worsen and expand.
House Republicans are also proposing eliminating the United States Agency for International Development completely. USAID has programs in more than 100 countries and in sectors ranging from agriculture, infrastructure, democracy and governance, and economic growth and trade to education, environment, health and medicine and youth and gender issues. Since its founding in 1961, USAID has been the principal U.S. Agency to extend assistance to developing nations or nations in crisis. Its accomplishments are extensive, but I must name a few to give a sense of the program that takes up so little of the budget and does so much for the world. USAID considers these its five major accomplishments in Iraq alone in 2003 and 2004: http://www.usaid.gov/about_usaid/PDACG100.pdf
1. Created local and city governments in more than 600 communities
2. Restarted schools by rehabilitating 2,500 schools, providing textbooks to 8.7 million students and supplies to 3.3 million students, and training 33,000 teachers
3. Vaccinated 3 million children; equipped 600 primary-care health clinics and rehabilitated 60
4. In conjunction with the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), restored electric service to eight major power plants that now deliver 2,100 megawatts of power
5. Revived the marshlands located in southern Iraq by reflooding the area
I know there is concern for the budget, and there needs to be, but humanitarian aid doesn’t have the resources to allow for the deep budget cuts that are needed, and its projects are too instrumental in the lives of too many people. For Representatives to declare that these programs are discretionary spending that should be cut is to make hundreds of millions of lives around the world scapegoats for their political careers. This budget, with these proposals, is expected to pass the House, but meet more resistance in the Senate.