After formally taking over the leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives, the Republican party has begun introducing measures aimed at reducing the U.S.’s national deficit. Their latest and arguably most radical proposal is to defund, if not eliminate, the U.S. Agency for International Development.
The proposal introduced by the Republican Study Committee, a group of more than 170 conservative House Republican, seeks to defund USAID and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, extend the pay freeze on federal employee salaries and limit hiring within federal agencies.
Since its release, this proposal has been subjected to criticism from administration officials and members of the development community. The common argument: U.S. national security will be adversely affected by deep cuts to the country’s international spending budget.
USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah and Rep. Howard Berman (D-Ca.), the ranking Democratic representative on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, argued in recent weeks that development is key to the U.S.’s national security strategy.
Slashing USAID’s budget “puts our national security in real jeopardy because we are working hand and glove with our military to keep us safe,” Shah had said.
Berman had noted that the current U.S. military leadership, as well as former U.S. President George W. Bush, had said that the country’s civilian agencies should be fully funded to bolster efforts to fight terrorism. Berman added that robust international civilian engagement supports the local economy by creating new markets for U.S. goods and services abroad.
Meanwhile, a foreign affairs and defense budget expert with a U.S.-based think tank has noted that altering the country’s international affairs spending will make it hard for USAID and the State Department to “provide the kind of follow-on House Republicans expect in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
The RSC reform proposal has a slim chance of becoming law as it would need approval from both the House and the Senate, which is led by U.S. President Barack Obama’s Democratic party and supportive of his vision to elevate development onto the same ranks as defense and diplomacy. If it does become law, it would inevitably put a damper on the Obama administration’s plans to turn USAID into the world’s premier aid agency and a modern enterprise that relies more on in-house capacity than external consultants and contractors.