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More than 40 senators defend foreign aid budget in open letter

USAID relief commodities at the Port-au-Prince airport are readied for distribution, January 17, 2010. Photo credit: Candice Villarreal / U.S. Navy

Forty-three senators signed an open letter to the four senators leading federal budget negotiations, asking them to protect the foreign aid budget.

Members from both major parties requested “robust funding” for the international affairs budget – home to diplomatic and foreign aid spending. The letter comes just days after a Trump administration budget document was leaked, showing proposals that would make deep cuts to foreign aid programs and shift of money away from the U.S. aid agency (USAID) to the State Department.

“This budget invests in the strategic tools that are essential to promoting our national security, building economic prosperity, furthering humanitarian and democratic principles, and demonstrating American values,” letter stated. “At a time when we face multiple national security challenges around the world, deep cuts in this area would be shortsighted, counterproductive, and even dangerous.”

It is the latest round of resistance to the Trump federal budget proposal. Lawmakers opposed the proposed 30 percent cut to foreign affairs in late February. Pressure on the administration was immediate. A letter signed by more than 120 retired generals and admirals criticized the cuts. And Bill Gates visited Washington to make a personal appeal for the aid budget.

“We were really thrilled to see there were that many coming out to say that this is an important investment,” Simon Moss, campaigns director for Global Citizen, told Humanosphere.

The majority of the signatories on the Senate letter are Democrats, but foreign aid enjoys strong support from Republicans as well. They point to national security in their calls for continued support. Cuts would “undermine our country’s economic and national security interests, as well as the humanitarian and democratic principles we support,” according to the letter. It cites statements supporting the need for diplomacy and development by former Secretary of State Colin Powell and current Secretary of Defense James Mattis.

“We’ve seen over the years that foreign aid has a multitude of benefit,” Moss said. “And there are a number of members of Congress who come from a different perspective and can be brought on board.”

Moss breaks the interests into five categories: moral, religious, political, self interest and national interest. Each provides an avenue for advocates to make the case for foreign aid without undermining other arguments or the program.

More than 100 Christian leaders signed a letter in mid-March calling for the protection of the international affairs budget. Unlike the military appeal, the religious message focused on human dignity, eradicating poverty and ending suffering.

Maintaining the budget also fits in with the Trump administration’s ‘America First’ slogan, former Bush-appointed USAID head Andrew Natsios argued in the Houston Chronicle. Moss agreed, saying that the long-term interests of the U.S. are intertwined with the well-being of the world.

“You can simultaneously believe this is the right thing to do and believe it is in America’s interest,” he said. “If America walks away from its role of leading it will make them inordinately harder. So we will be doubling our efforts to show American assistance plays an important role in the world and is hugely influential.”

The campaign is under way. Thousands of constituents called their members of Congress in the wake of the budget release to protest foreign aid cuts, Moss said. Advocacy groups, like Global Citizen, worry about U.S. foreign aid because of its financial importance and leadership role. The proposed cuts are more than the total budget for Australia – one of the leading donors in the world. Reducing global health programs by $1.7 billion would cost lives.

Moss is optimistic that Congress will reject the cuts, but will continue to advocate for a robust foreign aid budget. And maybe the conversation can turn toward more important issues.

“Instead of saying how much we should be making cuts, we should be talking about how we can make this better,” he said.


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]