GOP Presidential Hopefuls Debate US Foreign Aid Cuts

Republican presidential candidates Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry. Photo by: Gage Skidmore / CC BY-SA

Republican presidential candidates took a break Saturday (Nov. 12) from what has been their staple debate and discussion topic — U.S. economic issues — to tackle national security and foreign policy. One of the most controversial proposals of the night: To start foreign aid to any country at zero and allow recipients to negotiate for aid dollars.

The proposal came from Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who in a previous GOP presidential debate called for a “very real debate about foreign aid.”

>> GOP Presidential Contenders and Their Views on US Foreign Aid

“The foreign aid budget in my administration for every country is gonna start at zero dollars. Zero dollars,” Perry said at the Saturday night debate hosted by CBS News and the National Journal. “Then we’ll have a conversation in this country about whether or not a penny of our taxpayer dollar needs to go into those countries.”

Perry’s remarks stemmed from a question one of the debate moderators asked regarding their views on Pakistan and the U.S.’ relationship with the Asian country.

“Pakistan is clearly sending us messages,” he said, according to the CBS/National Journal transcript of the debate. “It’s clearly sending us messages that they– they don’t deserve our foreign aid that we’re getting, because they’re not [being] honest with us.”

Interestingly, Perry said his proposal includes Israel, which most Republicans consider a strong U.S. ally. He said the United States would likely fund Israel “at some substantial level” because it is a “special ally” but “it makes sense for everyone to come in at zero and make your case.”

What did the other GOP presidential candidates say about U.S. foreign aid to Pakistan and in general? Here are some excerpts:

I would not agree with that assessment to pull all foreign aid from Pakistan. I would reduce foreign aid to many, many countries. But there’s a problem, because Pakistan has a nuclear weapon. We have more– people affiliated with Al Qaeda closer to that nuclear bomb than in any nation. This is an extremely important issue.Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachman

I’m absolute– I mean, what he said made absolutely perfect sense. Why would you start every year– and consider the alternative. You’re giving some country $7 billion a year. So you start off– or– or in the case of Egypt, $3 billion a year. So you start off every year and say, “Here’s your $3 billion, now I’ll start thinking”? You ought to start off at zero and say, “Explain to me why I should give you a penny.”  - Newt Gingrich

“We can’t be indecisive about whether Pakistan is our friend. They must be our friend. And we much mut– we must engaged them as friends, get over the difficulties we have, as we did with Saudi Arabia, with– with respect to the events of 9/11… We need to continue the– the aid relationship” - Rick Santorum

Jon Huntsman, meanwhile, addressed the issue of U.S. foreign aid in another venue, taking a stab at his fellow hopefuls who want to defund the U.S. foreign aid budget completely. He argued that if U.S. foreign aid investments are in “America’s interest, we get some return on that invested dollar. To wish it all away, I think, is a political sound bite.”

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About the author

  • Ivy Mungcal

    As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.