I’m on board with a lot of the cuts in the proposed budget. I can support cutting out, for example, the funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, and Corporation for National and Community Service. I can support cutting the Essential Air Service program. I can support cutting the funding for Meals on Wheels, if the funding really isn’t helping proportionately to the amount that is being contributed. (But I don’t object to the funding if it’s effective, however). In general, I can agree with the argument of this Commentary piece – that “[i]f that which Democrats say they value is of real worth, it—like Big Bird—can survive the tempestuousness of the marketplace.” I support the cuts to the United Nations, especially the climate change initiatives.
But I do have a problem with one area targeted for cuts. That is the across-the-board cuts to foreign aid. As Max Boot notes, it looks as though this budget proposal conveniently uses cuts to foreign aid to offset some of the increase in defense spending – even though there isn’t enough to make up for it. Boot futher lists several countries that receive significant funding and points out how those countries (Egypt, Jordan, Kenya, Nigeria, Afghanistan, etc.) are important to our foreign policy. Foreign aid spending and the State Department play a vital role in maintaining American power and helping countries to do things that we might otherwise have to do ourselves with our own military. Over 120 retired generals signed a letter urging Congress to avoid cutting the State Department and the aid budget.
There is something else to think about here as well, something near and dear to me: the opinion of Christian leaders, especially those involved in international development and poverty relief. Foreign aid can be instrumental not only in matters directly related to security, but also in saving lives, eradicating diseases, and protecting religious freedom, which are good in and of themselves and thus deserve serious consideration before cutting any of those efforts, but also, those things promote stability and engender good will for the United States and thus promote American interests abroad as well. Over 100 Christian leaders have signed a letter urging Congress not to cut these programs. Signees include Timothy Cardinal Dolan, who prayed at the inauguration, Leith Anderson (president of the National Association of Evangelicals), Rich Stearns (president of World Vision), Samuel Rodriguez (who also spoke at the inauguration), Rev. Eugene Cho, Dr. O. Alan Noble, Michael W. Smith, Brandon Heath, and Matt Maher. They argued:
At a time when we’re especially security conscious, the International Affairs Budget is crucial to demonstrating our values to the world, building friendships with other nations, and lowering security risks around the world.
With just 1 percent of our nation’s budget, the International Affairs Budget has helped alleviate the suffering of millions; drastically cutting the number of people living in extreme poverty in half, stopping the spread of infectious diseases like HIV/AIDs and Ebola, and nearly eliminating polio. Additionally, it promotes freedom and human rights, protecting religious freedom for millions around the world.
As followers of Christ, it is our moral responsibility to urge you to support and protect the International Affairs Budget, and avoid disproportionate cuts to these vital programs that ensure that our country continues to be the “shining city upon a hill.”
That shining city on a hill is what I’d like to continue to be as well.
Former Senate majority leader Bill Frist, who is now chairman of an organization called Hope through Healing Hands, wrote an article in Christianity Today also arguing that foreign aid should not be cut. He notes that, while the global church does help, “the burden is too great.” Millions require clinical care, need bed nets to prevent malaria infection, suffer from malnutrition, etc. He says:
But because these programs are less than one percent of the budget, it is analogous to getting a haircut when we need emergency surgery. We support a balanced budget, but to do so will require deep cuts in the mandatory spending that account for two-thirds of federal spending—not much smaller discretionary accounts like foreign assistance, which represents less than two-thirds of one percent of the budget. For less than a penny on the dollar, we provide the critical safety net for people around the globe who live on less than a dollar a day… As a nation, our leadership in health and development assistance is first and foremost a moral issue… Economists and historians posit that when countries fail economically, they become breeding grounds for terrorism and conflict… For Christians, such aid also aligns with our convictions to care for the poor and support a culture of life. From Genesis to Revelation, the Scriptures compel us to care for the marginalized—to care for the widow, the orphan, and the refugee…
So he says foreign aid “can be a win-win for America and the world.”