The New York Times reports on impending cuts to foreign aid, which could decline as much as 20% as Congress attempts to reduce federal spending by nearly $1 trillion. The truth, of course, is that international assistance is such a small part of the federal budget (less than 1%) that even these relatively large cuts will have almost no impact on the deficit.
They will, however, have an enormous impact on the lives of vulnerable people around the globe. In response to a budget with similar reductions proposed in April, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah testified to Congress that the cuts “would lead to 70,000 kids dying” because they depend on the malaria control programs, immunizations, and skilled birth attendants the aid helps provide.
The story quotes Jeremy Konyndyk, the director of policy and advocacy for the international aid group Mercy Corps, who puts it succintly:
The amount of money the U.S. has or doesn’t have doesn’t really rise or fall on the foreign aid budget…The budget impact is negligible. The impact around the world is enormous.
But the most troubling part of the article for me was a quote from Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX), chairwoman of the House appropriations subcommittee overseeing foreign affairs, explaining why she supports the cuts:
She recalled a State Department envoy’s informing her of $250 million in relief to Pakistan after last year’s devastating floods. “I said I think that’s bad policy and bad politics,” she said in an interview at her office on Capitol Hill. “What are you going to say to people in the United States who are having flooding?”
How about “we can help you too”? Telling international flooding victims there’s nothing we can do because it would expose the cruelty we show to our own citizens in need represents a real low in “austerity” justifications.
Though it’s drawing little media attention in the U.S. right now, the situation in the Horn of Africa is nothing less than a global crisis. Racked by the worst drought in 60 years, famine has set in across Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya, and especially Somalia, leaving more than 12 million people in dire need of emergency assistance.
While insufficient to address the scale of such a disaster (which is roughly equivalent to the entire state of Ohio being on the brink of starvation), it’s important to highlight how essential emergency aid from the U.S. government has been, providing over $580 million dollars to help more than 4.6 million people.
The crisis reminds us just how irresponsible it is to propose cuts to foreign aid. As Catholic Relief Services and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops made clear in a letter to Congress, foreign aid makes up less than one percent of the federal budget, but this modest investment literally saves lives.
What’s more, as former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson has pointed out , such suffering is completely avoidable. “From a fiscal perspective, cuts in global health and poverty programs are inconsequential. From a moral and humanitarian perspective, they would be tragic. America does not have a debt problem because it spends too much on AIDS drugs or bed nets.”
It’s good to see government partnering with private charities to help address the current crisis in Africa. And donations from the public are also crucial, though not an adequate substitute for government action.
CNN aired a story this weekend about the miraculous difference antiretroviral therapy has made in the lives of millions of Africans because of PEPFAR, an AIDS-relief program created by the George W. Bush administration and expanded by President Obama. The program began with a broad bipartisan effort and has been strongly supported by the faith community — notably including evangelical Christians. Since its founding, PEPFAR has stood out as a foremost example of the immeasurable good that can result when people of faith put their values into action in the public square.
As the CNN segment points out, though, this lifesaving common-ground program is now threatened by conservatives in Congress eager to make budget cuts in the name of fiscal responsibility (how they defend budget-busting tax cuts at the same time is another story). Watch it:
A Washington Post story today about the future of PEPFAR points out that the program dwarfs the other global sources of funding for AIDS prevention and treatment in developing countries. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, (to which the US also contributes) provides only $1.6 billion per year, compared to PEPFAR’s $6.7 billion. This fact suggests that other sources of funding are not at the ready to pick up the slack if the U.S. scales back its commitment to fighting this pandemic. In other words, countless lives are in jeopardy.
Also at stake is who we are as a nation. As we decide how to address our long-term budget and debt problems, saying that we can’t afford effective, lifesaving programs like PEPFAR while we lock in historically low tax rates for millionaires and billionaires reflects greed and cruelty we should be deeply ashamed of.
I feverishly ran to the White House late Sunday night. I sang the Star-Spangled Banner with thousands of spontaneously gathered revelers. I chanted “Yes We Did.” I personally witnessed to what I considered justice for a mass murderer. I found no correlation to just war, but instead look to law enforcement. I did not celebrate one man’s death, but rather victory over evil, an evil that has defined my lifetime thus far. It will hopefully now not define the rest of my life. I danced on no grave, but for a nation that met in this instance the collective call of humanity to protect civilians and obtain justice.
I returned to my apartment and discovered countless tweets and Facebook statuses decrying the celebrations at the White House and across the country. I read status after status quoting scripture. Scripture I knew well; I preached a sermon several years ago questioning if my congregation actively prayed for Osama bin Laden. I read the now debunked Martin Luther King Jr. quotation that spread like wildfire across social media. I read my colleagues at FPL quote a chorus of faith leaders I admire condemn the celebrations.
But I also reread Dietrich Bonheoffer and listened to President Obama tell the nation, â€Ž”[bin Laden's] demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity…Tonight we give thanks to the countless intelligence and counter-terrorism professionals who have worked tirelessly to achieve this outcome.”
Today, Joan Walsh of Salon offered the best commentary I’ve read so far:
I personally had a hard time seeing bin Laden’s death as something to celebrate, but I didn’t judge those who did. The 9/11 attacks were of such enormity, rippling out to reach so many people in such different ways, we’re all entitled to our subjective reactions; it was everyone’s tragedy, and everyone grieves differently…
You can believe fervently in the power of King’s words about love, and hate, and violence — as I do — and still accept that President Obama did the right thing, based on the knowledge he had before him.
Walsh warned us not to “outsource our moral decision-making,” and without outsourcing my own thoughts to Walsh, I tend to agree. My reaction of patriotic fervor was my own, rooted in a deep commitment to stopping injustice.
On the moral question of whether Americans (and citizens of the world who are now safer) should rejoice over the killing of Osama bin Laden, I think people need the space to react in their own way, and it’s important to be respectful of diverse reactions and mindful of our collective commitment to pursuing justice.
Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons is an intern at Faith in Public Life.
While media coverage of the Royal Wedding spectacle today focused on what dress Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cambridge wore, the message coming out of the service itself was more substantive. The homily by Dr. Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London, spoke to the common good and interdependence:
We stand looking forward to a century which is full of promise and full of peril. Human beings are confronting the question of how to use wisely a power that has been given to us through the discoveries of the last century. We shall not be converted to the promise of the future by more knowledge, but rather by an increase of loving wisdom and reverence, for life, for the earth and for one another.
Such a message is pertinent not only to the newlyweds and the audience of millions, but also to political leaders. The United States Congress, for example, faces a moment full of promise and peril in the current budget debate. If politicians increase their loving reverence for life, and for the earth, and for one another, real progress will be made towards passing a budget that reflects our morals.
Bishop Chartres closes with a prayer written by the royal couple themselves: “In the business of each day keep our eyes fixed on what is real and important in life and help us to be generous with our time and love and energy. Strengthened by our union help us to serve and comfort those who suffer.”
Here’s hoping Washington heeds the call from Westminster to fight for the common good.