The political game of "non-security" spending …. because we all know that foreign aid recipients do not/not vote

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The following is a long excerpt from Senator Patrick Leahy’s statement on the House Budget allocations from February 8, 2011:

[…] I want to speak briefly about the impact the House action would have on the Department of State and foreign operations.

It is notable that the House defines diplomacy and development as “non-security” spending, even though the integral part they both play in promoting our national interests and protecting our security around the globe was explicitly recognized by the Bush Administration, which even viewed the HIV/AIDS pandemic as a national security threat because of its destabilizing impact on the world’s poorest countries.

The notion that the only budget functions that relate to national security are Defense, Veterans Affairs, Military Construction, and Homeland Security is bewildering.  It flies in the face of the complexities of the world today and ignores the strongly held views of current and former – Republican and Democratic – Presidents, Secretaries of Defense and State, senior U.S. military commanders, National Security Advisors, and Administrators of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

According to the House, we might as well shutter our embassies and fire our diplomats, particularly in the Middle East, South Asia, Mexico, Indonesia and other regions where U.S. security interests are threatened, because if they are not there to help protect those interests why do we need them?  We should also curtail our aid programs in countries like Israel, Colombia, Afghanistan and Pakistan, because the House apparently sees no relation between these programs and our security either.

Of course, that is absurd.  Our Republican friends in the House know that we cannot counter the influence of al Qaeda and other violent extremists through military force alone.  They know that helping countries rebuild after conflict, building stable, democratic institutions, preventing the trafficking of nuclear material and other weapons, educating and providing jobs for youth who would otherwise be fodder for terrorist recruiters, combating the corrosive influence of organized crime, preventing the spread of deadly viruses, supporting NATO, the International Atomic Energy Commission, and United Nations peacekeeping, are all about our national security.  And it is the diplomats here and abroad, and the funds they administer, that make it possible.

There is no mystery to the House’s decision to lump the Department of State and foreign operations with other “non-security” domestic functions.  Since those are the programs the House leadership has targeted for the deepest cuts, and there is little domestic constituency for the Department of State and foreign operations, it is an easy target.

In fact, most Americans are under the mistaken impression that these programs comprise 15 to 20 percent of the Federal budget, when they actually comprise 1 percent.  Rather than set the record straight, that misimpression is a convenient excuse for House Republicans to slash these programs without having to worry about complaints from voters in their home districts.

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I doubt they will call attention to the fact that in doing so they will be cutting funding for programs to promote U.S. exports which are the fastest growing sector of the U.S. economy, especially small businesses, which face fierce competition from China.  In fact, I doubt they will call attention to China at all, since the Chinese long ago recognized that its security is directly tied to its foreign relations, and its investments, on other continents.

Mr. President, no function or program in the Federal budget should ever be immune from budget cuts.  I have no doubt that we can find programs within the Department of State and foreign operations budget that are not performing, just as we can within the Defense budget or any other function.  Some programs succeed, some do not.

But we cannot ignore what our allies, competitors and adversaries have clearly recognized – the threats and challenges we face around the world are increasing.  Why else do you suppose that in Great Britain a conservative government that is slashing spending exempted international aid?  They recognized that it is a critical national security investment, for both the immediate and long term.

The House would cut funding for the Department of State and foreign operations 17 percent below the President’s budget request, and 7.5 percent below the current Continuing Resolution that expires on March 4.  The irony of the House’s action is that while cutting foreign aid will cost lives and weaken our influence around the world, it will do virtually nothing to reduce the deficit.
  • Does anyone doubt that helping rebuild Haiti – a country of 9 million desperate people a short distance from our shore – is in our national security interest?
  • Does anyone doubt that supporting the international body that monitors nuclear testing is in our national security interest?
  • Does anyone doubt that averting widespread hunger in Africa, and the violence and instability and massive displacement of people it could cause, is in our national security interest?
  • Does anyone doubt that helping to mitigate an environmental and humanitarian calamity caused by melting glaciers, widespread drought, and rising sea levels, is in our national security interest?
  • Does anyone doubt that helping Mexico, with which we share a 2,000 mile border, build a professional, accountable police force and justice system that can uphold the rule of law in the face of drug cartels and other criminal gangs that have infiltrated every facet of Mexican society, is in our national security interest?
  • Does anyone doubt that averting the resurgence of polio and other diseases that can easily cross national borders and threaten the lives of hundreds of millions of children, including Americans, but can be prevented with low cost vaccines, is in our national interest?

Budget cutting should not be a numbers game.  Nor should it be a political game that fails to acknowledge what is at stake.  At the very least, the American people should know the consequences.  No matter what they call it – security or non-security – or how they attempt to justify it, the House allocation for the Department of State and foreign operations would require drastic cuts in critical programs that are essential to maintaining U.S. global leadership and protecting our security.

Read the whole thing here.