In Debate Over Food Aid Reform, Congress Should Choose Efficiency Over Industry Interests

“This spring the White House proposed reforming the way the United States runs its overseas food aid, and it has led to a legislative turf battle in which some lawmakers are blaming North Carolina and other agricultural states for their own inaction,” Matthew Leatherman, a resident fellow at the International Affairs Council of North Carolina in Raleigh, writes in a News & Observer opinion piece. “On one side are Congress’ agriculture committees, which control this budget and are resisting change on the pretense of representing farmers,” he notes, adding, “On the other are foreign policy committees that stand to gain control and support the administration’s proposal, citing ‘good government’ reasons.” He provides an overview of the Food for Peace program, outlines the changes to the program proposed by the Obama administration, and states, “The real issue is that this reform would switch the budgeting prerogative for food aid from agriculture legislators to foreign policy legislators. In a body defined by the power of the purse, Congress’ committees will fight to control every inch of legislative turf.”

“The measured argument favors reform,” Leatherman continues, writing, “The benefit of Food for Peace is sustenance for those otherwise at risk of malnutrition or starvation, an objective at the heart of our humanitarian values and our interest in maintaining a leadership role. And its cost — $1.8 billion — is less than a 20th of one percent of the total 2014 federal budget plan.” However, he states, “A principle of our foreign policy is to assist U.S. industry with opening foreign markets,” and “[u]sing domestically grown food in this aid program falls within that spirit.” Leatherman concludes, “There’s a chance to get more foreign policy bang for the few bucks we spend on food aid. North Carolinians are sure to favor such efficiency, and the agriculture industry may turn out to be more receptive to change than it is credited. Seems those standing most in the way are Congress’ bickering insiders” (7/17).

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