Foreign Aid Cuts Can Be Reasonable

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Even though foreign aid makes up only about 1 percent of the total federal budget, it is impossible to imagine that it will not be cut given the harrowing overall budget situation. And that is reasonable. The challenge will be to avoid cutting so deeply that we actually undermine our long-term national interests, such as helping the poorest of the poor, combating disease, establishing better disaster early warning systems, or creating tomorrow's markets for American industry.

[Read more about the deficit and national debt.]

How we go about implementing these cuts may be every bit as important as their overall scale. The worst approach would be to simply lop off the same percentage from all aid programs equally. Instead, we need to use these budget pressures to be much more selective in how we deliver aid and who we deliver it to. That means Congress needs to have the discipline to set aside pet projects like our assistance to Ireland and subsidies for the maritime industry that make it much more expensive to deliver lifesaving humanitarian assistance. The administration will need to do its part as well, and large expensive programs like aid to Pakistan will be under fierce scrutiny given the often troubling behavior of the Pakastani government. Increasing numbers of countries in Eastern Europe and Latin America simply no longer need U.S. assistance and some, like Brazil, are becoming donors themselves.

Other major donor countries, like the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, have increasingly embraced an approach of trying to make a greater impact with programs in a fewer number of countries that are good development partners so that their resources are genuinely catalytic. That may make sense for us as well.

John Norris

About John Norris Executive Director of the Sustainable Security and Peacebuilding Initiative at the Center for American Progress

foreign aid
federal budget

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