Foreign aid isn't foreign. It's American.
Republicans bent on cutting foreign aid have forgotten their patriotic, moral duty. We better ourselves and bring pride to the US by feeding the starving, healing the sick, teaching the young, housing the exposed, and supporting democracy. And we help prevent terrorism.
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Foreign aid as budget scapegoat
In this fierce struggle, foreign aid could become a sacrificial pawn. A big reason why is the widely believed myth that foreign aid is a big slice of the federal budget. When asked how much of the federal budget goes to foreign aid, Americans guessed 25 percent, according to a poll conducted last fall by WorldPublicOpinion.org/Knowledge Networks. And when asked what the “appropriate” amount would be, the median figure was 10 percent.Skip to next paragraph
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Foreign aid actually makes up just 1 percent of the federal budget.
Congress wants to cut, among other programs: $889 million in food aid and agricultural programs, $1.52 billion from the State Department’s Global Health and Child Survival program, and $1.2 billion worth of general development assistance. Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky has even openly called to end all foreign assistance – a call many in the tea party support.
The FY2011 total budget is $3.82 trillion, so the $4.4 billion in cuts to foreign assistance and global health represent just 0.12 percent of the budget. Direct global health allocation comes to $1.88 billion, or about 0.049 percent of the total budget. If the goal in targeting development, food programs, and global health is elimination of the federal deficit and debt, these sums play a negligible role.
But the numbers belie how significantly such cuts may impact overseas efforts.
Will GOP let children die?
The GOP would, for example, eliminate about 40 percent of US support for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; 10 percent of direct support for malaria acquisition by babies and toddlers; about 8 percent of treatment for people living with AIDS. These numbers translate into direct, meaningful tolls of lives no longer saved, children dying of malaria, and communities unable to obtain safe drinking water.
How can such budgetary slicing be patriotic? As Michael Gerson, former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, recently wrote, “No one can reasonably claim that the budget crisis exists because America spends too much on bed nets and AIDS drugs... The main initiatives on malaria and AIDS were created under Republican leadership. If the goal of House Republicans is to squander the Republican legacy on global health, they are succeeding.”
Some key Republican senators understand that supporting foreign aid is essential to US security. South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, for example, tells taxpayers, “We need to be investing in improving people’s lives before the terrorists try to take over. Stay ahead of them, not with 100,000 troops all the time, but by partnering with people who will live in peace with us.”
National security is a valid rationale for defense of foreign aid. But patriotism is a better one, based in the great pride Americans feel in knowing that billions of people outside our nation thrive because of our generosity. Moreover, they strive to attain the freedom that they see on YouTube, chat about on Twitter, and dream about on Facebook. As Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet Archibald MacLeish famously put it, “There are those, I know, who will say that the liberation of humanity, the freedom of man and mind, is nothing but a dream. They are right. It is the American dream.”
[Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the home state for Sen. Lindsey Graham.]