Geopolitical and Economic News and Analysis

U.S. House Pushes Through Deep Aid Cuts

Global Geopolitics & Political Economy / IPS

By Aprille Muscara

WASHINGTON, Feb 19, 2011 (IPS) – With a 2015 deadline fast approaching to meet a collective global promise to tackle poverty and improve education, health and environmental sustainability around the world, development and humanitarian advocates are up in arms over conservative lawmakers’ proposals to slash and burn entire chunks of the United States’ foreign aid budget.

After days of heated floor debate and some 600 amendments, the U.S. Republican- controlled House of Representatives passed what is called a "Continuing Resolution" (CR) Friday that allocates government funding from the first week of March until the end of the fiscal year, which ends on Sep. 30, 2011. The final vote was 235 to 189, with just three Republicans joining Democrats in opposition.

The CR makes over 61 billion dollars worth of cuts – including about 19 percent to international affairs accounts, according to calculations by the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, and 41 percent to humanitarian aid, according the State Department, compared to FY 2010 enacted funds. Spread over six months, these reductions would be "devastating" critics say.

As the CR now moves to the Democrat-led Senate, where it is likely to get watered down some, and with President Barack Obama’s threat to veto the House’s proposal if it lands on his desk, the massive purges in their current form are unlikely. Still, observers worry that deep slashes will remain and predict an equally contentious battle over the administration’s FY 2012 budget proposal released Monday.

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Impact on Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) 1-4

MDG 1—End extreme poverty and hunger: Development Assistance (DA) would be slashed by 30 percent; International Disaster Assistance by 67 percent; aid for migration and refugees by 45 percent; and overall humanitarian and poverty- focused funding by 27 percent, according to InterAction. These accounts largely assist the world’s poorest. And according to the World Food Programme, proposed cuts to food aid would take away school meals from approximately 2.5 million children; leave 15 million individuals – mostly women and children – hungry in conflict and disaster situations; and reverse a decade of steady gains by slashing food aid to their 2001 levels.

MDG 2—Achieve universal primary education: "Cutting school meals programmes makes it hard for children, especially girls, to stay in school and get an education," the WFP says. Educational and Cultural Exchange Programmes would also be slashed by 133.7 million dollars, or 21.1 percent, compared to funds enacted in FY 2010. One of these programmes supports elementary and secondary schools in 20 Muslim-predominated countries around the world, according to the U.S. Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. And the threatened DA account includes money for basic education, now also threatened.

MDG 3—Promote gender equality and empower women: If the House passes the proposed resolution, "girls and women would bear a heavy burden – from girls in early childhood programs to women in their working and childbearing years to women in retirement," wrote Nancy Duff Campbell in ‘The Hill’ Wednesday. Experts also point to the linkages between the goals and the central role girls and women play in their success: Threats to one often means a threat to the other.

MDG 4—Reduce child mortality: The House’s proposed cuts are "disproportionately made to the most cost- effective humanitarian programmes saving children’s lives," noted Robert Zachritz, U.S. government relations director for World Vision, in a statement Tuesday. "8 million children die needlessly every year before the age of five and can’t speak up for themselves," he added. According to InterAction’s calculations, the proposal makes a 15 percent reduction to the Global Health and Child Survival (GHCS) U.S.A.I.D. account and 10 percent to the GHCS State Department account from enacted FY 2010 funds.

Note: These figures are based on the initial CR proposal.

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"Let me be clear, the United States of America has been, and will remain, the global leader in providing assistance," U.S. President Barack Obama said in his speech at the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) summit at the United Nations last fall. "We will not abandon those who depend on us for life- saving help. We keep our promises, and honour our commitments."

But critics say that the CR threatens these very promises and commitments, and worry that important global development gains could be threatened. (See the sidebar for how these cuts could impact the eight goals).

While certain countries and indicators lag behind in the global MDG campaign, hundreds of millions of people have been lifted above the 1.25 dollars per day poverty line and universal enrolment in primary school education has risen steadily in the past two decades.

Most promising are advances made in global health. According to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, deaths due to malaria could be eradicated and a new generation born without HIV by 2015. If achieved, these successes would represent two of the greatest health triumphs of our lifetime.

The U.S. is one of the world’s top donors. "Because of U.S. aid, over the last 60 years, maternal and child mortality have dropped sharply, literacy rates have increased and economic opportunities have expanded in the developing world," said CARE president and CEO Dr. Helene D. Gayle in a statement Wednesday.

"These funds produce real change in the lives of women and children and their families living in extreme poverty, changing entire communities and nations for the better," she argued.

If colossal cuts are made to Washington’s foreign aid budget, observers are concerned about the impact this could have on global health and development and also fear a potential ripple effect to other donor countries’ provision of aid if the U.S. reneges on its commitments as a result of these budget cuts.

"The House FY 2011 funding bill would have a devastating impact on U.S. foreign affairs funding, and if adopted could be a serious setback to
   
Impact on Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) 5-8

MDG 5—Improve maternal health: These GHCS accounts also include funds allocated for maternal health. Reductions include a 32 percent purge from family planning funds from enacted FY 2010 levels, according to InterAction. The proposal also makes deep cuts to U.S.A.I.D. and UNFPA, which provide reproductive health and family planning services to 50 and 150 countries, respectively, according to Population Action International.

MDG 6—Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria, Tuberculosis and other diseases: "The proposed $450 million cut in contributions to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis means that approximately: 10.4 million bed nets to fight malaria will not be provided; 6 million treatments for malaria will not be administered; 3.7 million people will not be tested for HIV; 58,286 HIV-positive, pregnant women will not receive treatments to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV; 414,000 people will not be provided their antiretroviral (ARV) medication; and 372,000 testing and treatments for tuberculosis will be halted," said Sheila Nix, U.S. Executive Director of the ONE Campaign, in a statement Monday.

MDG 7—Ensure environmental sustainability: The DA account, which is endangered by a 30 percent purge, includes funding for biodiversity and climate change efforts. Meanwhile, the proposed resolution also zeroes out contributions to the Clean Technology and Strategic Climate Funds. While some civil society groups have expressed concerns about the way these funds are distributed by the multilateral development banks, eliminating contributions could be "devastating" to U.S. efforts to tackle global climate change and environmental sustainability, observers say.

MDG 8—Develop a global partnership for development: If Washington – one of the world’s top donors – won’t keep its commitments, it is argued, countries around the globe might ask, ‘why should I?’ and ‘why should the U.S. then be allowed at the negotiating table?’ With proposed cuts of 21 percent to international organisations and programmes, 15 percent to contributions to international peacekeeping, 8 percent to non- United Nations peacekeeping activities, and deep slashes to multilateral assistance, including a zeroing out of contributions to the Asian Development Bank, according to InterAction’s figures, observers argue that these reductions threaten U.S. credibility and partnerships on the world stage.

Note: These figures are based on the initial CR proposal.
o U.S support for the Millennial Development Goals (MGDs)," Don Kraus, chief executive officer for Citizens for Global Solutions, told IPS by e- mail.

"The legislation would cut funding for critical poverty fighting food aid programs by up to 50 percent, decimate support for refugees in Africa, Burma, Iraq and other places, and shrink funding for fighting AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis," he explained. "This legislation represents a serious retreat for U.S. poverty reduction efforts."

Some analysts argue that the House’s CR will threaten U.S. interests, security and reputation abroad, don’t create the jobs that were promised and do little to tackle this year’s 1.4 trillion dollar deficit.

"The House FY11 funding bill targets U.S. spending on international affairs and poverty relief, calling it ‘deficit reduction’," Kraus told IPS. "But fiscally this would have the same impact as withholding my daughter’s allowance to pay down our family’s mortgage."

Kraus cited a November 2010 public opinion poll conducted by the Programme on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland. "Americans and many politicians do not understand how little we actually spend and believe 25 percent of the federal budget is spent on foreign aid," he said.

"When asked what would be a reasonable amount to spend, the median response is 10 percent. In fact, only a little over one percent of our budget goes to foreign assistance," Kraus explained.

In contrast, the defence budget amounts to about 22 percent of federal spending. In the House’s CR, about 526 billion dollars would be allocated to the Pentagon, just slightly below the 540 billion Secretary Robert Gates requested.

"These were hard decisions, and I know many people will not be happy with everything we’ve proposed in this package," House Appropriations Committee chair Hal Rogers said in a statement last Friday, when the CR was introduced. "That’s understandable and not unexpected, but I believe these reductions are necessary to show that we are serious about returning our nation to a sustainable financial path."

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