House slashes foreign assistance; Senate needs to hear from you

February 23, 2011
by John Fawcett, Global Legislative Director

The House of Representatives has voted to make severe cuts to poverty-focused foreign assistance, including global health, basic education, and microcredit programs. Now the Senate must pass its own spending bill, and your senators need to hear from you.

Approving a bill with sweeping cuts, the House has proposed a 30 percent cut to the Development Assistance account (which funds basic education and microcredit) and a 15 percent cut to the Global Health account. Particularly devastating is the House’s decision to single out the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria for a $450 million cut.

In a thoughtful interview on NPR and in an op-ed in the Washington Post, Michael Gerson — a former speechwriter and policy advisor to President George W. Bush — called the cuts “both irrelevant and destructive.”

Why irrelevant? Because the problem members of Congress are ostensibly trying to solve is our country’s ballooning deficit.  And yet the entire foreign aid budget amounts to little more than a rounding error in the federal budget. We spend less than 1 percent of the federal budget on poverty-focused foreign aid programs. We can’t try to balance the budget on the backs of the poorest people on the planet.

Why destructive? Because these programs are working, and draconian cuts would have severe consequences for the health and well being for the communities that need them most. A $450 million cut to the Global Fund as proposed would mean that:

  • 10.4 million bed nets to fight malaria will not be provided.
  • 6 million treatments for malaria will not be administered.
  • 58,286 HIV-positive pregnant women will not receive drugs to prevent transmission of the virus to their children.
  • 414,000 people will not be provided with antiretroviral (ARV) medications.
  • 3.7 million people will not be tested for HIV.
  • 372,000 people will not be tested and treated for tuberculosis.

Congress must not roll back the tremendous progress the Global Fund and other programs have realized in the past decade. The humanitarian costs are clear, and as this new fact sheet (pdf) details, there are direct benefits our security and our economy from the dollars we invested overseas.

Fortunately these cuts can still be reversed, but we’ll need bold leadership from the Senate and the White House. Congress is working to finalize spending levels for the remainder of fiscal year 2011. The federal government is currently operating underrating under a continuing resolution (CR), which is a temporary spending measure that expires on March 4. The House has passed its funding bill, and now the Senate must approve its own measure.

Your senators need to hear from you.  Ask them to 1) Oppose cuts to foreign assistance in the fiscal year (FY) 2011 spending bill, and 2) speak to Senate leadership in support of foreign assistance — especially the Global Fund.

For a more detailed discussion of Senate strategy, listen in to a

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