Federal budget: broad, long-term thinking is needed

I had a fascinating discussion this week in New York. I was with my CEO counterparts from leading humanitarian aid organizations such as Save the Children, Mercy Corps, and Oxfam. We meet twice a year to discuss various issues related to aid. The topic of greatest concern to us this week is the cuts to the State Department and USAID budgets.

This is an important issue because it directly affects the amount of funding available to help children and families in the poorest and, often, most unstable regions of the world. But, as I’ll argue in a moment, this is about more than saving innocent lives—it’s also about preventing political unrest and violence.

First, a summary of what is being cut:

  • For 2011, the overall International Affairs Budget was cut from $56.7 billion in FY2010 to $48.2 billion (a reduction of $8.5 billion or 15%).
  • The total 2011 Humanitarian and Poverty Focused Accounts were cut from $17 billion in FY2010 to $15 billion (a 6% reduction).

But the truly devastating news is that for 2012, the House is considering 40% cuts to the International Affairs Budget. This would be tragic. I know that times are tough right here in our own country, but these funds build schools, tackle hunger with agricultural programs, prevent AIDS and malaria, provide health services to pregnant women and children, and bring water to the thirsty. These programs demonstrate the compassionate values of the American people to the world.

The average American is confused about what the International Affairs Budget does. A January survey of Americans by the Program for Public Consultation indicates that most Americans believe that foreign aid accounts for 21% of the total U.S. budget. It's actually less than 1% and the humanitarian, poverty-focused money is less than one half of one percent! And it includes all of the State Department, all of our ambassadors and embassies and the lion's share of our programs to assist the poorest of the poor around the world.

I was greatly concerned several weeks ago by the results of a February survey of Americans regarding their budget priorities. Conducted by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press, the survey showed that Evangelical Christians listed help for the poor around the world as their number one priority for cutting from the federal budget. I was shocked because I know that these programs save the lives of literally millions of people each year.

Good development assistance has been proven to diminish violence and instability that lead to military action later. Defense Secretary Robert Gates was blunt about this in recent remarks to the United States Global Leadership Coalition, “Economic development is a lot cheaper than sending soldiers.” Good development assistance also builds friendships and allies with foreign countries.

New members of Congress need to hear the positive stories of what is working in U.S. foreign aid programs – how it prevents conflicts, promotes economic development, and saves lives. America’s national security depends not just on its military, but on its diplomacy and its development efforts as well.

The proposed 2012 cuts are 40%. We must let our government representatives know how important it is to support the International Affairs Budget and humanitarian assistance. Together, these accounts total only around 1% of the federal budget.

The U.S. budget deficit and caring for the poor are both moral issues. Budgets are moral documents that enshrine our deepest values as a nation. What kind of a statement does it make when we are unwilling to spend even one half of one percent of our budget to help the poorest of the poor? This is not a Republican or Democratic issue. This is a human issue.

Americans need to continue the conversations with their elected representatives to let them know that we care about the poor outside our borders as well as those inside. Not all budget cuts are equal. Some will mean programs will end. Others mean children will die.

The new Congress is listening and learning. Let them know how you feel about maintaining a robust International Affairs Budget. Contact your members of Congress.

Read related post: How would the disciples vote?


    When the government uses the coercive power of taxation to take money from its citizens to give aid to others, it is a corruption of true compassion, and morally wrong. Our God does not need the government to meet the needs of the poor, as Jesus readily demonstrated with the loaves and fish. Let us not worship the idol of government power, putting our faith in it. Rather, let us put our faith in God to move in the hearts of His people to give freely with a generous heart to accomplish His will on the earth, as in heaven.

    Philip Akonom: Is it "a corruption of true compassion and morally wrong" when the government "uses the coercive power of taxation" to build warplanes and bombs? It looks like you didn't even read the post. The humanitarian affairs budget isn't even 1% of the overall federal budget. That's not even pennies compared to our military budget. I'd suggest you exercise a little perspective yourself before talking about "corruption of compassion." As the wealthiest nation in the world, we have a moral responsibility to help those who aren't.

    Sir...."wealthiest country in the world"??? Did you not know we are bankrupt!! And we are bankrupt because of irresponsible government spending be it Republican or Democrat. It was not our forefathers intention that our government meet the needs of everyone. The safety and protection of citizens is the primary role of government. It is not to quarantee me health care and everything else under the sun. How long would your household last if you were spending twice as much as your income? Not long....we are on the verge of economic and moral collapse in our beloved U.S. It is time to start depending on the God of our fathers once again and return to personal responsibility. And yes, it IS the responsibility and purpose of government to maintain a strong military for the protection and safety of a free America. Freedom is not free! How many brave men and women have died for the freedom you and I enjoy this very day!

    Gentlemen: Is it not one of the privileges of democracy that we have a right to express our wishes regarding the dispensation of our tax dollars? Every day, my tax dollars go to pay for things that I would rather they didn't. That is the case for every American.

    In this case, I choose to request that my tax dollars go to help the poor. If you are offended to think that your taxes help to create a "socialist state"... perhaps you can console yourself with the thought that your dollars will go toward the military, whereas mine will go to help the poor. ; )

    And if you're truly exercised to eliminate federal funding to help the poor, have a little chat with your church. If Christians pick up the slack, we won't need the government. (Wouldn't that be lovely!) Until that day comes, I think we have the obligation to use every tool we can access in order to save lives.


    @Lisa: I respect your comments greatly, but I believe you have misunderstood my post. I did not mention the military, or any other object of tax dollars. I was simply pointing out that taking money from citizens by the coercive power of taxation to supplant the free will offerings of hearts moved by God is a corruption of charity, and immoral.

    @Charles: I respect your comments greatly, and thank you for your reply. A question: Do you believe that the amounts involved affect the morality of a choice? In other words, is it "less" wrong to steal a penny than a dollar? If you do, then I understand your point of view, though I do not agree.

    On your last point, do you mean to imply that the government and the nation are the same thing? If so, then I again understand your point of view, but disagree. The government does not always act in concert with the desires of its citizens, which is why our founders established a republic based on a limited government. It is the limitation of government which allows the citizens to express most fully their own choices, which reflect individual morality, and more accurately represent "the nation".

    I would like to know what percentage of World Visions budget comes from the Federal Government and any other government agency. I have supported Word Vision in the past believing them to be a great relief organization. I had no idea it was partially funded by government monies. I agree with what Philip had to say in his comment on the issue. We must help the poor, that is a mandate from our Lord, but to take monies collectively from all citizens and dole it out to relief organizations as a part of our budget IS NOT THE PURPOSE OF GOVERNMENT! On the surface, it seems like a moral thing to do, but it goes along with all the other entitlements which are NOT the responsibility of government. All God fearing Christians have a responsibility to help and feed the poor, their is no question about that! That act must be from a willing and cheerful heart....the other is socialism.

    I don't usually speak out on any affairs. However, I do have opinions, though they are always just sitting in my head and rarely spoken.
    A thought came to me this morning. It was a little thing, but I thought it worth sharing.

    What if the world was flipped backwards and every crisis was, in turn, put upon opposite peoples? What if it were us living in dirty huts while the people of Africa were driving fancy cars and building four bedroom houses? Most Christian Americans love to give their money to good causes. I know that I do. We are called to help the poor and needy.

    I know that there are certain people in our own country that are homeless and helpless. Our government can sustain itself to help these people. The governments of some countries aren't as stable.

    The more I think about it, the more I realize that it could have been the opposite. African countries could have prospered just like ours did. It isn't completely unrealistic. If that is the case, then our government could have turned out helpless and unstable.
    Consequently, the American people could have become dependant on foreigners for food, health, clothes, and water. Any number of us would be standing in line waiting for our only meal of the day. What if the majority of our people were getting by with less than $2 a day?

    Can we visualize ourselves being labeled as 'poor' and 'needy'? I can see a world where those that we help now give us the aid we need in the future. It may not happen, but it could happen.

    If the world were backwards, then it would be Haiti's government or Sudan's who took away the financial help that had been there before. Would you or I be the one who got cut out of their plans? The kids who had gotten tuition for school or a meal plan would suddenly be sent home because some higher people elsewhere decided they were spending too much money on other things.

    I'm not the smartest person in the world. But, if things were switched, would our country be helped if we were the ones who were poor and needy? If we turn our backs on the people who truly need it now, will they be likely to help us if we need it later on?

    Really aptly presented and put forward. this is a great article. Gives Fodder for human brain as well as compells you to ponder. Happy That I came across this site.

    Its hardly ever that you find such blogposts. Well written and aptly presented. good work. Will follow this post.

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