Debt ceiling debate: Why foreign aid is an issue of 'right-wrong,' not 'right-left'

Consider what you've heard in the news over the past several weeks regarding the ongoing impasse over the nation's debt ceiling.

You've probably heard a great deal about spending cuts, versus tax increases, versus any combination thereof. You've likely heard about the August 2 deadline for raising the limit, lest the United States default on its debts and risk an economic meltdown. In the midst of this, you've almost certainly observed a soap opera of political posturing and bickering among members of both parties.

But what you probably haven't heard much about in the context of this debate is the group that stands to lose the most: the world's poorest, who literally depend on U.S. foreign aid for their survival. Their direct involvement in this issue may not be recognized as part of the dialogue, but that does not mean that they should be forgotten.

Last month, the U.S. House proposed cutting the federal budget for international food aid by $650 million. That's a 39-percent cut from the president’s request, and a 50-percent reduction from the average over the past 10 years for this account. If passed as part of an agreement to raise the debt ceiling, nearly 1,625,000 people -- a population about the size of Phoenix, Arizona -- would be affected.

Bob Zachritz, World Vision's director for advocacy and government relations, said this week that “[providing life-saving foreign assistance] is not a right-left issue. It’s a right-wrong issue.”

There are five reasons why he's correct:

  1. The International Affairs Budget is just 1.4 percent of the total $3.8 trillion in the fiscal year 2012 budget. Disproportionately cutting one of the tiniest line items won't make a significant impact on the nation's deficit -- but it could be devastating to those whose lives are saved by the programs that this budget funds.
  2. World crises illustrate the need to preserve this critical funding. The UN declaration of famine in parts of Somalia -- coupled with extreme hunger and malnutrition across drought-ravaged East Africa -- is just a recent reminder that children, families, and communities around the world are suffering and continue to need U.S. assistance through this very modest budget.
  3. The national debt is a moral issue. So are life-saving programs for those affected by poverty. Preserving crucial assistance for the poorest of the poorest is in the national interest of the United States, and it represents the compassion and goodwill of the American people.
  4. The return on investment justifies the funding. The programs sustained by the International Affairs Budget are cost-effective. For the small price of a pill, a piece of bread, a bed net, or a vaccination, you can save a child's life. There are few places in the U.S. federal budget where dollars translate so directly into lives saved.
  5. As Christians, we have a biblical mandate to care for the poor -- even when times are difficult. We can't understate the sacrifices that American families have had to make during these trying times; nor can we downplay the need for the United States to address its own challenges. But we should also remember what God calls us to do as His followers. By supporting the International Affairs Budget -- with its insignificant size but immeasurable impact -- we have the perfect opportunity to reflect our faith in the public sphere.

Please join us in our efforts to preserve international programs that fight poverty and save lives. Contact your members of Congress and ask them to oppose major cuts to the International Affairs Budget.


    A few observations:

    Government does not efficiently allocate resources.

    Government is hostile to Christian principles

    Once Government bankrupts the country and we don't have 1.4% of $3.8 Trillion dollars to spend, then what will all of these dependents do?

    Our "tiniest line item" actually creates major distortions in these under=developed economies.

    Let individuals decide how their money gets spent and make way for initiatives that create lasting change through economic development.

    We have to stop the cycle of dependence and our victim/savior mentality - not just in international aid but here at home as well. This is a tired argument you make and it does more harm than good in the long run.

    With the greatest of respect, the inability of World Vision's blogwriters to recognize that taking care of the poor should not be by force (read: involuntary taxation) is tragic.

    These investments save money and lives by preventing conflicts and helping end them more quickly. Deploying our diplomats and development experts is less expensive than deploying our troops (i.e our military budget in 2012 is more than one trillion dollars.)

    10%-15% of the International affairs budget in 2012 will go towards programs in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

    Aaron, if you want to focus on misspent taxes, the real tragedy is that American's spent 1.2 trillion on war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Our foreign aid programs are a small investment towards stability and international relations. Kudos to World Vision for advocating against these cuts to keep effective programmes.


    A thoughtful, concerned Christian is PERFECTLY capable of opposing both on principle.

    We do not advance the Gospel through government.

    Thank you World Vision for bring this to our attention. Many of the American people misunderstand this issue (as seen in most of the comments on this post!). I am incredibly saddened to see all the negative comments posted here.

    World Vision is doing a fantastic job and I commend you for standing up for the weakest and most vulnerable people who have the most to lose - their very existence depends on it.

    I leave you with this prayer:
    "send us now into the world in peace,
    And grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

    How come we the public must balance our budget to the penny to prevent an overdraft, yet you say that 3.8 trillion is a drop in the bucket. Still every penny would help to balance the budget. How many American children need food, medical, dental,care? How many schools could be repaired. I need extensive dental work and don't have the money. Many people believe that we need to take of our own first, which include our Vets. No it not easy we also have many homeless who need help.

    Spending money to this much excess is irresponsible and shows a serious lack of Biblical principle as well. When is a good time to balance the budget, in your opinion? This has been worsening since the 60s and nobody has had the strength of character in all these years to do it. There are MANY areas to cut from the budget that wouldn't affect foreign aid... starting with, say, special interest groups like Planned Parenthood...

    If all the big churches in this nation donated a tithe (10%) of their income to support these programs, there would be morwe than enough to provide for the world's poor.
    In the mean time there are thousands right here in this country who need aid to exsist, let alone buy medicine. These are the citizens who worked in the past 60 years, depending on promisses made by our government!

    Having been in many of the countries that are effected by this famine, I know there is real need there; however, using debt to solve this is not biblical at all. The bible talks more about money than any other issue, and it talks a lot about being in debt. Shame on World Vision for playing the card that if America follows biblical principals than people in in other countries are going to starve. That is ridiculous to say the least. The more stuff World Vision publishes on this issue the more I am considering taking my funds to other aid agencies.

    Its most certainly true that we as Christians must help care for the poorest people in the world and do all we can to help them make a better life for themselves. However, our government and many in this country insist that church and state must be totally seperate. It is we as professing Christian who ALL need to tithe, then we would make a real difference in the world. Christians, put your money where your mouth is.

    World Vision is speaking from a selfish political point of view rather than a biblical one. Their final reason given above to continue foreign aid is because, as Christians, we have a mandate to care for the poor. The U.S. Government is not a Christian. Nor is money confiscated from it's citizens in the form of taxes biblically subject to Christian rules of stewardship. Jesus did not try to control how Ceasar spent his money. Nor did he run to government organizations to feed people. Jesus fed the multitudes twice with only a few fishes and loaves of bread. It would appear that World Vision believes that Jesus no longer has the means to feed the hungry unless Ceasar (the U.S. Government) buys all the food with money taken from struggling tax payers. I am ashamed of World Vision for this blatant exhibition of faithlessness in the God they claim to follow and their apparent deification of an impotent government.

    In Genesis, we are told the story of the 7 fatted calves and 7 tall grains followed by the 7 lean calves and 7 withered grains. We are told that Joseph led the people of Egypt to save during their time of plenty, setting aside for the coming recession/famine. In so doing, they were able to be a blessing to those around them during the years of strife that followed.

    We did not do that. These cycles are nothing new and have been happening throughout history. During the recent boom economy we spent not only the money we earned, but much of the next generation’s as well, both as individuals (for too many of us) and as an aggregate society. Now, when we find our neighbors in need, we find we have to struggle to help or worse, use our ability to borrow against our children to be generous to our neighbor. This is the mistake that was made and is being made still. Wanting a balanced budget is not wrong! Indeed, contrary to the siren calls all around us that tell us doing so is oppressive to the poor, it is the only way we can possibly be a blessing to others in anything but a short sprint.

    I believe there is nothing Christian about giving away another generation’s resources, yet, this is what you are asking. In addition to having to repay these gifts, we are expecting our children to pay interest for these gifts. As each successive generation borrows more from the next, the freedom of their children is reduced. Already today we are paying more for the interest on the national debt then on investments in education, research, infrastructure, exploration, etc. combined. In other words we are already spending more to pay for yesterday’s luxuries then we are investing in tomorrow’s opportunities. (The NYT has a visual diagram of the budget indicating what I have said.) Enough is enough. We need to pull ourselves together and fix this or we may soon lose the ability to help others. Then we will become like the 11 brothers who must beg from their younger brother in Egypt just to survive.

    Maybe World Vision should withdraw it's dependence on Government funds like similar NGO Oxfam does, and fully rely on God's annual provision from whomever.

    Really?? The raising the debt ceiling is the right way to handle international food shortages? Absolutely wrong. First of all, as Christians we should and must take of the poor and hungry, but that should be done as Christians not as a secular body such as the U.S. government. Does international aid as provided by the U.S. government help spread the Word of God? No! Food aid should be handled through Christians and distrubed on the ground through Christians that can then tell the recepiants about God's Love.

    Not to mention dumping our extra crops on these poor countries does nothing to help them in the long run. In fact it hurts by lowering the value of locally grown crops and keeping local farmers from being able to make a sustainable wage from their crops. What is usually needed in the countries that are receiving U.S. foreign aid are programs that show local farmers how to better grow crops and produce greater yields from the crops they are already growing. Eventually leading to sustainability within the local economy, so that the community will not need American aid. These programs are done far more effectively by NGOs who have no other goal than local sustainability.

    Continual foreign aid destroys a local economy and therefore it may far better in the long run if some areas are not provided government aid.

    I would more trust World Vision to steward food aid funds. But, suggesting we borrow more money to give to the US government so pennies on the dollar actually make it to a person in true need is unwise. We followers of Christ have the obligational response to Grace, not the taxpayer.

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