Why we must fight for US development aid

Pallets of humanitarian aid from the U.S. Agency for International Development to be transported to Haiti. Photo by: USAID / CC BY-SA

With an agreement reached to raise our nation’s debt ceiling, the billion dollar question, literally, in the development community is: What does this mean for the international affairs budget? At this early stage, some of the details are unclear, but what we do know is that deeper cuts are a possibility.

The agreement calls for a two-step process, the first of which includes nearly $1 trillion in cuts by placing caps on discretionary spending. The international affairs budget is classified as part of security funding in this step, so it’s included with the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs, and intelligence agencies. The $1 trillion in cuts will be divided among security and non-security accounts. House appropriators will now have to reformulate their allocations for the various accounts, and the Senate will have to come up with theirs.

Right now, in the proposed House appropriation, we are already looking at cuts to non-war related development and diplomacy accounts of 20 percent over two years. 

The second step of the compromise agreement includes an additional $1.2 trillion to $1.5 trillion in cuts, which will be determined by a new “special joint committee” made up of 12 members of Congress. This so-called super committee is required to make recommendations for the cuts to Congress by Nov. 23, and Congress then has to give and up-or-down vote on them before Christmas.    

In this second round of cuts, only the Department of Defense is classified as security spending, which may be a good thing as the across-the-board cuts would be evenly divided between security and non-security programs.  That means the international affairs budget will be in a bigger pot with both discretionary and entitlement programs, and hopefully more immune from additional cuts.

Bearing the brunt of cuts in the current House bill are State and USAID operations and multilateral and development assistance, where the reductions range between 16 percent and 35 percent below current-year funding levels.

The largest component of the international affairs budget not included in the State-foreign operations appropriations bill – international food aid – is cut over 30 percent in the fiscal 2012 agriculture appropriations bill, which passed the House in June. All this is at a time when we are seeing a devastating drought and famine in the Horn of Africa. 

With 20 percent cuts already on the table, the international affairs budget is in for a tough fight throughout the fall. It is more critical than ever for the development community to demonstrate how strategic and effective its programs are for U.S. national security, for our own economy, and as a demonstration of our leadership in the world. 

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About the author

  • Richard Parker

    Richard Parker joined the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition after serving as director of communications for the Peace Corps. Previously, Parker served at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services focusing on international health issues. He also worked in public affairs for the state of Virginia and communications and marketing for the American Red Cross and Levi Strauss & Co. He holds a master’s in public policy from Regent University and a bachelor’s in business from N.C. State University.