Budgets matter. They show us two things: 1) how our government is spending our scarce resources; and 2) where our national values and priorities lie.
Yesterday, President Obama unveiled his budget request for Fiscal Year 2012 (FY12). His budget proposal comes a mere three days after the fledgling GOP House leadership unveiled its plan to fund the U.S. government for the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year. The two documents – the President’s FY12 budget and the House of Representatives' GOP FY11 spending plan – both display starkly different visions for U.S. spending abroad.
On one hand, the President’s budget maintains robust funding for defense operations and also includes lifesaving funds for U.S. humanitarian assistance and support to critical peacekeeping missions. While the President’s budget provides sizeable cuts to humanitarian programs, his FY12 request maintains close to current funding levels for U.S. contributions to basic shelter, food, water, medicine and education for the more than 42 million refugees and internally displaced people globally. The President’s budget also ensures that UN peacekeepers will continue to prevent further displacement, provide security for refugee and displacement camps, and enhance stability in unstable countries like Sudan, Haiti and Cote D’Ivoire.
In contrast, the House GOP spending package, H.R. 1, also provides billions of dollars for U.S. military operations around the world -- including military aid to frontline states like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Israel and Egypt -- but indiscriminately targets and slashes lifesaving U.S. humanitarian assistance. To make good on a campaign promise to cut $100 billion from non-security discretionary spending, the GOP plan proposes billions in far-reaching cuts that disproportionately affect the less than 1/10 of one percent of the U.S. budget that goes to lifesaving humanitarian assistance to some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable. U.S. humanitarian assistance for refugees and those displaced by conflict amounts to a fraction of the cost the U.S. spends in one month waging Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, yet House Republicans have proposed to cut these funds down to unreasonable levels.
When compared with 2010 funding levels, the House GOP plan would cut U.S. refugee assistance by nearly 40% (from nearly $1.7 down to $1 billion) and international disaster assistance by nearly 50% (from nearly $850 million down to $430 million). These cuts are not only disastrous for those who depend on U.S. humanitarian assistance in countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, DR Congo and others; they’re a threat to U.S. security interests too. Morever, the cuts fail to reflect and uphold the generous American philanthropic tradition.
As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote in a letter to House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers
yesterday, “Cuts of this magnitude will be devastating to our national security, will render us unable to respond to unanticipated disasters, and will damage our leadership around the world.”
Ultimately, successive Republican and Democratic Administrations and Congresses have understood that humanitarian assistance upholds America’s tradition of generosity and is an effective way of promoting stability and building trust with foreign governments and their citizens. Indeed, cutting foreign assistance is likely to hurt our long-term budget outlook. History shows that smart investments in foreign assistance help us avoid future military conflicts, head off threats from beyond our borders and lay the groundwork for future economic growth.
Republicans aren’t proposing disastrous cuts in humanitarian aid in H.R. 1 because they detest a particular humanitarian program or because they have suddenly found waste, fraud or abuse in these accounts. They simply believe they can get away with these cuts because there is no well-organized political constituency in their home districts fighting for humanitarian funding.
Here’s one way to restore humanitarian funding: instead of providing $450 million for the development of the controversial engine for the F-35 joint strike fighter, which the Pentagon has claimed is unnecessary and wasteful, how about re-allocating those funds toward U.S. programs that provide protection and assistance to the world’s most vulnerable people?
We at RI understand the pressures and expectations to quickly address our nation’s fiscal situation. However, we strongly reject the false choice presented to us: that the only options are to cut the deficit OR maintain responsible funding levels for humanitarian programs. On the contrary, we believe our nation can be both fiscally responsible while investing responsibly in foreign assistance. Even our strongest allies, including Britain and Australia have concurred with this assessment and have spared foreign aid in their new austerity budgets.
Choosing to cut the U.S. budget on the backs on the world’s most vulnerable would be a tragic mistake for our foreign and humanitarian policy. It would also be inconsistent with the American public’s commitment to respond to humanitarian crises to ensure that those in need have the protection and assistance they need. RI strongly encourages the House to restore funding to critical U.S. humanitarian programs designed to save lives, assist and protect the poorest and most vulnerable among us, and help stabilize areas of important strategic interest to the United States.
February 15, 2011
| Tagged as: Congress, U.S. Administration