Cuts That Kill: The Problem with Catch-All “Foreign Aid” Language
Trumpeting tired, tea-party rhetoric at the GOP Presidential Debate this week, the candidates responded to a question about foreign aid by almost universally across the line declaring they would severely cut or even eliminate the foreign assistance budget to save money. (That such funds make up less than 1% of the federal budget went unmentioned).
Tapping into conservative suspicions about corruption and waste in foreign governments and international institutions, the candidates painted all aid with a broad brush to downplay the real harm such cuts to life-saving programs would cause. But this generalization disguises an important reality that U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Rajiv Shah spoke to Tuesday–that many of these funds go to faith-based organizations like World Relief and Catholic Relief Services that help carry out the agency’s mission. By threatening to demolish foreign assistance, GOP candidates are actually slashing the budgets of dozens of these faith-based organizations, severely limiting their ability to provide assistance to the world’s most vulnerable people.
These organizations generally enjoy broad support from across the political spectrum, including among religious conservatives. I’m guessing candidates would likely be less likely to boast about their plans to cut aid if they had to be honest about the actual people and programs such reductions would impact.
Unfortunately, Wednesday’s debate just gave us the same tired talking points and deficit peacocking we’ve seen before on this issue–all while people continue to suffer in places like famine-stricken Somalia. As other nations shrink their own foreign assistance budgets the need for real U.S. leadership on this issue is more important than ever. We can do better than this.