On March 21, 2012 the House Budget Committee, under direction of Chairman Paul Ryan (R, Wis.), released its budget plan
for 2013. This document essentially outlines the Republican Party’s spending priorities for the next fiscal year and provides a response to President Obama’s budget plan
, released in mid-February.
Being that 2012 is an election year, these competing documents are both highly political and thus nearly impossible to be approved by a divided Congress. But they do give us an idea of how our two major parties are thinking about foreign policy.
The committee’s proposed budget for “international affairs”—which includes U.S. foreign aid spending—came in at significantly less than what President Obama has requested in his own budget plan. The Obama plan has allocated $56.1 billion for the international affairs budget in 2013, whereas the Ryan proposal has allocated $43.1 billion—a difference of about 23 percent, and a 10-percent decrease from actual spending on international affairs in 2012.
So what would such a spending reduction involve? For those too squeamish to peruse the entire 230-page document, here are some of the notable policy recommendations (largely cost reductions) for international affairs spending in the Ryan plan:
- Eliminating USAID’s “Development Assistance” funding model, and instead funding all U.S. foreign assistance through the Millennium Challenge Corporation—an independent aid agency created in 2004.
- Eliminating the Complex Crises Fund (CCF), established in 2010 “to support stabilization activities and conflict prevention in countries demonstrating high risks of insecurity.”
- Eliminating funding for the Inter-American Foundation, the African Development Foundation, the East-West Center, the Asia Foundation and the Center for Middle Eastern-Western Dialogue.
- Eliminating contributions to Clean Technology Fund and Strategic Climate Fund.
- Eliminating Feed the Future, President Obama’s 2009 initiative that aims to end global food insecurity.
- Reducing funding for USAID’s International Disaster Assistance.
Many aid organizations and think tanks have been critical
of the proposed policies, most arguing that such cuts would greatly damage U.S. influence in international affairs, threaten the lives of millions and jeopardize national security.
The strongest criticism comes from the Center for Global Development
(CGD) regarding the elimination of Feed the Future. Ryan’s budget proposal argues that existing initiatives, specifically Food for Peace and the McGovern-Dole food and nutrition program, already serve the function of addressing food insecurity, making Feed the Future unnecessary. However, CGD argues, these two initiatives “[are] not a long term program to promote food security … It is a ‘feed the now’ rather than ‘feed the future’ approach. Its goal is to keep people alive, not to increase farm yield or any of the related activities necessary to help develop sustainable agriculture.” CGD have also shown in the past
that Food for Peace and McGovern-Dole have proven to be some of the most inefficient and wasteful programs in the federal government.
But regardless of what you think about the proposals, the Ryan plan tells us something useful. It’s not that our elected officials on the budget committee don’t care about doing what’s best for the world’s poor; it’s that—for now—they don’t have to.
When President Obama’s budget proposal was released in February, the Inter Press Service pointed out
that “Given a Republican-controlled House of Representatives, election-year politics and the lack of a politically potent grassroots constituency willing to lobby for more foreign aid, the administration’s request is unlikely to make it through the Congress intact.”
Facing the Ryan plan’s policy prescriptions, this prediction appears to be dead-on – there are few grassroots voices calling for more or better aid. At the Global Poverty Project, we’re passionate about the latter half of the above quote — the general lack of political will on the part of the individual to support effective foreign aid.
As a general rule, Congress won’t voluntarily fund something unless it is of an immediate measurable advantage to the United States, or unless the people demand it. That’s what is both magnificent and challenging about our democratic system—it requires our participation.
Unless the average American raises concerns or ideas with Congress about the sort of aid we should be giving, this situation is unlikely to get any better. And every March, we will continue to fight the same battle over that 1-percent of federal spending that goes toward foreign aid.
What’s truly necessary is for everyone, from development experts to ordinary citizens like myself, to move beyond political name-calling and preaching to the same small-but-passionate choir of aid enthusiasts, and to become campaigners. Let’s commit to using our voices to ensure that the needs and interests of the world’s poor are addressed, in 2012 and beyond.
, make phone calls, write letters—and more importantly, talk to your friends, co-workers and family members, and get them to do the same. The people of Egypt toppled a dictator with the help of Facebook and Twitter; compared to that, influencing our foreign policy doesn’t seem so difficult anymore.
Let’s be the generation that harnessed our social networks to create positive change for the world’s poorest people. Let’s stop defining our democracy by the inaction of our elected officials. Instead, let’s define it by the actions we take together, whether as Democrats or Republicans, Mac or PC, iPhone or Android.