Obama's 2013 foreign aid budget request: The good, the bad and the ugly

U.S. President Barack Obama during a budget meeting at the White House on January 2009. Photo by: Pete Souza / White House

While the top-line numbers in President Barack Obama’s 2013 budget request for foreign aid were encouraging, details of how it will be spent have raised mixed reactions from the development community.

Obama is requesting $51.6 billion for the international affairs account. The proposed budget has received praise from some development organizations, with the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network and the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition calling the budget request “balanced” and a “smart, strategic investment.”

But cuts in humanitarian assistance and global health — including the $542.9 million reduction from the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief — have led some health advocates and nongovernmental organizations to raise concerns.

InterAction said the budget request was a “mixed bag for the world’s poor.” Samuel Worthington, president and CEO of InterAction, acknowledged that the current fiscal climate is difficult. But he said any further trimming to the core accounts is “counterproductive” and impedes the international community’s efforts to build more self-sufficient populations.

This is supported by Health GAP’s Matt Kavanagh, who said the administration’s move to cut billions of dollars from bilateral AIDS programs after promising to put the world on the path of ending the AIDS pandemic is, at best, a “bait and switch worthy of Wall Street.”

“In Zimbabwe where they’re facing waiting lists for treatment, in Malawi where there’s literally no external funding for ARVs past next year, and in Tanzania where we’re hearing clinics are refusing to enroll pregnant women above CD4 200, this is a disaster,” he said. PEPFAR cuts also affect AIDS programs in Kenya.

Some pundits question the inclusion of Egypt in the 2013 budget request despite strained relations with the United States. But Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona stressed the importance of the United States’ relationship with Egypt, asking whether the country will gain anything by cutting foreign assistance to the beleaguered nation.

“Our relations are very important with Egypt. How Egypt goes, the rest of the Middle East will go,” McCain told Fox News. “For us not to be involved in that part of the world, I think would be a very serious mistake.”

Foreign assistance, in the words of Emma Welch, a research associate at the Center for Preventive Action and International Institutions and Global Governance program, will sure become the bull’s eye in the budget debate. And one certain to generate attention is the new Middle East and North Africa Incentive Fund. Seven hundred million dollars of the fund is currently undesignated.

Connie Veillette, director of the Center for Global Development’s Rethinking U.S. Foreign Assistance Program, said: “Congress loathes the sight of big pots of money that remain unobligated for too long.”

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.