BUSH SPEECHWRITER MAKES BRILLIANT CASE TO PRESERVE AID FUNDING
The widely-held misconception among American voters that foreign aid represents a huge portion of the federal budget is a significant barrier to achieving our policy goals. It explains why foreign aid and development assistance is such low hanging fruit for the Republican majority in the US House of Representatives. After all, if voters think that up to one-fifth of the federal budget is sent offshore in the form of "hand-outs", it is hardly surprising that politicians will target foreign aid funding*. In pure political terms, it is a no-brainer. That's why foreign aid budgets are first in line for the chop in any prospective Budget proposal from the GOP-controlled Congress.
This is the challenging political and policy environment in which organizations like ours find ourselves. How do we convince political leaders not to cast off the MDGs in the context of fiscal austerity? How do we help political allies make the case against deep cuts? And how do we persuade our opponents that the cost of precipitous cuts may not be immediately obvious, but are nonetheless real.
A former speechwriter to George W. Bush, Michael Gerson, makes our case in a most compelling way in this morning's Washington Post. Reporting from West Africa, Gerson writes:
As I was visiting hospitals and health huts in Senegal, I was also receiving e-mailed updates on House GOP budget cuts. The Global Fund, down 40 percent. Child survival programs, which include anti-malaria efforts, down 10 percent. AIDS relief, down 8 percent. Development assistance, down 30 percent.
These reductions were intended to be symbolic, but what do they symbolize? Fiscal responsibility? Hardly. No one can reasonably claim that the budget crisis exists because America spends too much on bed nets and AIDS drugs. Our massive debt is mainly caused by a combination of entitlement commitments, an aging population and health cost inflation. Claiming courage or credit for irrelevant cuts in foreign assistance is a net subtraction from public seriousness on the deficit.
So, do these cuts symbolize the Republican rejection of fuzzy-headed liberalism? Actually, the main initiatives on malaria and AIDS were created under Republican leadership. They emphasize measured outcomes and accountability. If the goal of House Republicans is to squander the Republican legacy on global health, they are succeeding.
Wow. Coming from the guy that invented the phrase "axis of evil", this is an unexpected and welcome contribution. The idea that budget cuts endanger a Republican legacy of leadership and compassion in Africa strikes me as utterly compelling.
One of the most surprising aspects of the Bush Presidency was his determination to improve economic and social conditions in Africa. As a result, he is widely admired on the continent.
Legacy issues aside, Gerson also makes a shrewd political point -- namely, that claims to seriousness about fiscal matters are actually undermined by pretending that foreign assistance cuts will make a dent in the budget deficit when they will not do anything of the kind. This is a tough argument to fit into a headline, but it's worth making: if a household finds itself in dire financial straits, for example, they are not going to dig themselves out by cutting back on laundry detergent!
Rather than vilifying modest foreign aid spending for easy political points, serious leaders ought to focus on the small herd of elephants in the room, like defense and entitlement spending. They might also like to address subsidies for oil companies and huge corporate farms that keep products from the developing world off American shelves.
* The US currently spends approximately 0.2% GNI on foreign aid.
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To read the original Michael Gerson piece- http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/14/AR2011021404500.html
Jonathan Chait adds some context & analysis to the Gerson piece- http://www.tnr.com/blog/jonathan-chait/83500/republicans-abandon-bushs-greatest-triumph