Cuts To Foreign Aid Cost The U.S. Globally

By:  Senator Patrick Leahy

Foreign aid today is an oft-maligned term that is widely misunderstood. It is viewed by many as a form of charity, or a luxury we can do without, or as a sizable part of the federal budget. It is none of those things.

What we call "foreign aid" pays for our embassies that help the millions of Americans who travel and work overseas. It pays for UN peacekeeping that does not require the costly deployment of U.S. troops, UNICEF, the operations of our NATO security pact, aid for refugees who have fled wars or natural disasters, and to combat AIDS, the Asian flu, and other contagious diseases.

It promotes U.S. exports, supports democratic elections, combats poverty, and helps build alliances with countries to counter terrorism, thwart drug trafficking, protect the environment, and stop cross-border crime.

It totals less than 1 percent of the federal budget, yet it is a crucial investment in our national security.

As we cut these programs, our allies and our competitors are spending more to project their influence and to compete in the global marketplace. Great Britain is increasing its international assistance to .7 percent of its national budget, compared with .2 percent for the United States.

U.S. leadership is being challenged unlike at any time since the Cold War. In Latin America, which is a larger market for U.S. exports than any other region except the European Union, our market share is shrinking while China's is growing. It is the same story everywhere.

The world is changing, and we cannot afford to retreat or to succumb to isolationism. Funding that enables us to engage with allies, competitors, and adversaries helps us meet growing threats to our struggling economy and our security.

Everyone in Congress wants our country to lead, to build alliances, to help American companies compete, and to protect the interests and security of our citizens. You can't have it both ways. You can't expect others to follow if you can't lead, and you can't lead if you don't pay your way.

We need to stop acting like these investments don't matter, that the State Department isn't important, that global threats to the environment, public health, and safety will somehow be solved by others. U.S. foreign operations already have gone through deep budget cuts, with more to come. But the American people deserve to be told that slashing, disproportionate cuts in these programs would have no appreciable impact on the deficit, and it would end up costing our country far more in the future.