America’s budget crisis at home is forcing the first significant cuts in overseas aid in nearly two decades, reflecting the country’s diminishing ability to influence the world.
Both the Republican-controlled House and the Democrat-controlled Senate have proposed slashing financing for aid agencies at a time of desperate humanitarian crises and uncertain political developments. The proposals have raised the specter of deep cuts in food and medicine for Africa, in relief for disaster-affected places like Pakistan and Japan, in political and economic assistance for the new democracies of the Middle East, and even for the Peace Corps. It would also cut American contributions to international organizations like the United Nations and its Human Rights Council, the World Bank and the World Health Organization.
Representative Kay Granger, chairwoman of the House appropriations subcommittee overseeing foreign affairs, said lawmakers needed to prioritize spending according to American national security interests. The Republicans attachs conditions on aid to Pakistan, Egypt and the Palestinians, suspending the latter entirely if the Palestinians succeed in winning recognition of statehood at the United Nations. However, one of the largest portions of foreign aid — more than $3 billion for Israel — is left untouched in both the House and Senate versions.
Given the relatively small foreign aid budget — it accounts for 1 percent of federal spending over all — the effect of the cuts could be disproportional.
John Norris, a former official at the State Department and the Agency for International Development, or U.S.A.I.D., said that the country could “be much more selective” in delivering aid “without doing much harm to the national interest. …The budget impact is negligible. The impact around the world is enormous,” he said in a telephone interview from Nairobi, Kenya, where he was overseeing relief to the famine in the Horn of Africa.