Last summer, in a last ditch attempt at spurring the budgetary super committee to action on the crushing federal deficit, an agreement was reached in Washington D.C.
That agreement — known officially as the Budget Control Act, and unofficially as The Sequester – combined with impending tax hikes as a result of congress’ inability to come to any other notable agreements since, are what is now collectively known as The Fiscal Cliff. So appropriately named, because — when the mandatory across-the-board budget cuts that make up The Sequester collide with the substantial tax hikes that will sucker punch virtually every American family — it will so drastically affect the political and economic landscape in the United States (and by extension the world) that it will look and feel as though we’ve fallen over a cliff. An event, I might add, that is coming directly to you in less than two months.
If our legislators don’t take action we will run full-tilt off The Fiscal Cliff on January 2, 2013. Less than eight very short weeks from now.
Since I’ve already written about the tax hikes that are awaiting us at the edge of the cliff*, today I’d like to talk more about the sequestration side of things. Specifically, the part of it that will affect our foreign aid expenditures. Similar cuts and their consequences will be felt domestically, and I plan to write about them in the coming days, but as most of you know I just returned from a trip to Ethiopia as a guest of the ONE Campaign and foreign aid is fresh in my mind.
The truth is, the irony of the precarious position in which I’ve found myself is not lost on me; a right-leaning writer advocating for the preservation of foreign aid in a time when even expenditures for domestic aid and entitlement programs are an especially embittered topic on my own side of the aisle. As I review the discussions we’re having about the cliff, our options for avoiding it, and what will happen if we don’t, I keep coming back to just one thing though: this is not a partisan issue and there are no partisan fixes.
Even if we take those programs that are traditionally thought of as pet programs of one party or the other, drastic cuts to them will have a marked effect on issues that are of cornerstone importance to us all. And this is, perhaps, no truer than when considering foreign aid.
Though foreign aid is often thought of as a left-leaning budget line item, its integral role in two of the right’s dearest priorities is undeniable. As much as we spend investing in both our national security and the viability of the private sector economy, the relatively paltry sum that is allotted to foreign aid is likely the single area in which we get the most bang for our buck in both of them.
Developing countries present enormous economic opportunities for the U.S. The Washington Post reports that between 2004 and 2008 our exports to major developing economies — Brazil, India, and China — increased at more then two and half times the rate of our exports overall; 121% for the former compared to just 46% for the latter. Aiding developing countries such as Ethiopia with longterm investments in their society through developments of infrastructure, education, and eradication of disease increases opportunities for our products on the global market.
And that’s exactly what our aid dollars are doing. Long gone are the days of giving a man a fish. On the ground in Ethiopia we repeatedly and consistently saw that U.S. funded programs are successfully fostering independence, not breeding dependence.
At health posts and clinics charts pepper the walls where health care workers comprehensively track the success of the initiatives they’ve implemented in their surrounding communities, and the numbers they’re coming up with on shoestring budgets are staggering. According to estimates from amFAR, the amount of foreign aid budget that would be cut under sequestration alone would otherwise prevent 21,000 babies from becoming HIV positive as a result of mother-child transmission, prevent some 63,000 AIDS related deaths, and keep 124,000 children from becoming AIDS orphans.
At a beekeeping co-op in the hills outside Bahir Dar we met women who collectively saved the tiny incomes they were previously able to scrape together in order to put up half of the initial investment it took to begin their honey farming business. They now guard their bee hives 24/7, often with babies strapped to their backs. They will work around the clock for nearly a full year before they are able to harvest their first batch of product. These are the very definition of hardworking people and these dollars are being utilized in such a way that they could not be farther from a handout, nor closer to a hand up.
Of course, we can’t ignore the other side of this coin either. Developing economies also present opportunities for other countries in a position to invest; those who may or may not approach the opportunities in such an ethical manner. During a dinner meeting with USAID while we were on the ground in Ethiopia one of the representatives that was briefing us on their initiatives mentioned the interest China has expressed in the region — especially the opportunities presented by the harvesting of natural resources. As a deep believer in capitalism I can’t say as though I could fault any country for seizing an opportunity for advancement of their own society, but I also understand how easy it is for the lesser of two parties to be easily taken advantage of in situations where deals are made between parties of widely different means. Without aid developing countries would be at greater risk of economic colonization; something that could reverse the social, political, and economic advances they’ve made by decades and halt any opportunities between those countries and the U.S. well into the future.
Unfortunately, the lost opportunities and benefits would not be limited to economics. Historically, we have seen that civil, political, and social instability arises out of extreme need — especially for food. Hunger has always been the world’s greatest catalyst for social uprising and it probably always will be. Today, perhaps more than ever before, our national security depends on a stable developing world and hunger is a direct threat to that.
In the past two years we have seen the immediate effects of hunger on developing nations as the Arab Spring swept across the middle east and skirted the edges of Sub-Saharan Africa. We’ve also seen the very real U.S. toll of the political instability that arises from hunger as recently as last month, when four Americans were killed in an attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya.
Aside from the direct health threats that sequestration would present, amFAR estimates that 1 million families would be plunged back into food insecurity and about 700,000 children would miss out on nutrition programs aimed at preventing permanent mental and physical stunting as a result of malnutrition. To allow hunger back into these regions at levels the world has not seen since the 1980s — especially in a time of already soaring food prices — would not only be a fiscally irresponsible forfeiture of the investments we’ve made so far, it would be a dangerous national security play.
Leaving developing countries in a position of civil uprising at the precise same time at which they would be most vulnerable to economic colonization would not just be a security threat to our countrymen serving in their regions of the world either. It would open up the door for alliances with our enemies whose means are much broader, potentially putting us at greater risk even here at home and possibly closing our door to opportunities in certain regions of the globe without expensive military engagement in the future.
If we’re going to avoid the Fiscal Cliff, we’re going to have to work together to make some difficult decisions in the coming weeks. Our deficit must be reduced and in order to do that we’re going to have to take a serious look at where we’re spending and where we can afford to cut back. Part of that will be examining our priorities and cross referencing those causes which are of vital importance to all of us. If I didn’t truly believe this was an area that is essential for achieving the ultimate goals on both sides of our political aisles I most certainly wouldn’t have spent the past fourteen hundred words telling you about it.
It’s also why I’m asking you to add your name to the ONE Petition, in order to urge congress to act now to avoid sequestration and the devastating effects of across-the-board budget cuts.
Please, if you should take just a few moments out of your day to affect change, make it this:
Sign The Petition.
And share this link — http://bit.ly/PZqhwK — on your social networks to spread the word.