Vin Weber is a former U.S. congressman from Minnesota. He’s also been advising Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
And there he was,on Tuesday, Sept. 4, in Charlotte, North Carolina, the site of the Democratic National Convention, two days before Barack Obama was scheduled to be re-nominated for president of the United States.
Weber spoke on a panel on “how they would govern,” together with Tom Daschle and John Podesta, two Democratic power players, among others. And to everyone’s surprise, after a healthy debate on the budget deficit and Romney’s track record as governor of Massachusetts, the conversation turned to foreign aid.
Many supporters of foreign aid have been up in arms against Romney’s presidential run. His running mate, Paul Ryan, has advocated drastic — yet unspecified — cuts to foreign aid, and others in the Republican Party have called for the elimination of the U.S. Agency for International Development, the world’s top bilateral donor.
But how realistic is that doomsday scenario? Not so much, according to Weber, who spoke with Devex briefly after the panel.
Despite a five-paragraph statement in the GOP’s official party platform criticizing the United Nations and its various agencies, Romney and his team of advisers are for development cooperation, the moderate Republican said.
Aid cuts could be destructive over the long term, Weber told the crowd in Charlotte, where Devex co-hosted an event celebrating the life and work of the late congressman Donald Payne with the Better World Campaign, CARE, Malaria no More and the ONE Campaign. Then again, official development assistance is becoming less important as private sector investment in the developing world increases, he noted.
It all sounded like praise for USAID’s ongoing reform efforts and attempts to better engage the private sector in its work. The official party platform, while pushing to reduce ODA based largely on an outdated system, recognizes the private sector’s role in development.
Of course, in tough budgetary times — now! — and under pressure from the conservative wing of his party — constantly! — Romney may side with the budget hawks and try to trim U.S. aid operations. He may even try to get rid of signature Obama initiatives like Feed the Future, which Ryan, his vice presidential candidate, would like to slash.
But much of theGOP’s rhetoric against foreign aid may just be that: rhetoric. What do you think?