U.S. Officials Discuss Proposed Foreign Aid Cuts At House Foreign Affairs Committee Hearing

Proposed budget cuts could be “absolutely devastating” for American foreign aid programs, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah said at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Wednesday, the Associated Press reports.

Aid increases are “just not feasible in light of what is happening here at home,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said at the hearing, which “provided a window into the stark partisan” divisions that have fueled an ongoing debate over the fiscal year 2011 budget. “Disaster assistance, Democrats say, would be cut by as much as half, but Republicans contend America can’t keep spending beyond its means. They say it already borrows 40 cents for every $1 it spends,” according to the news service (3/16).

If budget cuts are approved, “Shah said his agency would have to slash programs to prevent food riots, famines and malaria outbreaks, while disaster relief efforts would be put at risk. He warned that the cuts could end up costing America a lot more if the U.S. military has to be deployed in the future to deal with problems that humanitarian workers could have dealt with now,” VOA News reports (Socolovsky, 3/16).

Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) proposed the House adopt new rules that would split foreign aid into country-by-country bills to “end the current system where overall foreign aid levels are decided essentially in one fell swoop,” which would “make members of Congress think more carefully about which countries deserve money, while adding transparency and accountability to the process,” the Washington Times reports. “For every dollar handed out, we can ask, ‘How does this further the interest of the United States? If a country can justify that it is critical to U.S. interests, then it will pass. If not, then it won’t,'” Poe said (McLaughlin, 3/16).

Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) “said there were ‘unrealistic expectations, often based on misinformation, that cuts in foreign assistance will fix the deficit,'” the AP reports. Berman cited a November University of Maryland poll that found survey respondents’ average belief was that 25 percent of the federal budget is devoted to foreign aid (3/16). “The truth is that addressing hunger, disease and human misery abroad is a cost-effective way of making America safer at home,” said Berman, who is the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the Washington Times reports (3/16).

Daniel Yohannes of the Millennium Challenge Corporation also testified at the hearing, VOA News writes. “This is about our prosperity. This is building the next set of emerging economies. This is about trade investment opportunities for American businesses. If we leave these countries alone, then in effect we are giving these countries to our competitors,” he said (3/16).

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