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Budget Blueprint Threatens Millions of Families World Over
It falls to Congress to reject dangerous White House proposal
Earlier this spring, the White House released a budget blueprint that would slash U.S. investments in the fight against poverty around the world. This proposal has been widely condemned by advocates, military leaders, the faith community, and members of Congress from both parties. But it remains the starting point in the federal budget negotiations for next year. The health and wellbeing of millions of families hang in the balance as Congress now takes up the process.
The “skinny budget” from the White House proposes cuts of 31% to the State Department and our country’s main global development agency, USAID. These are among the deepest proposed cuts of any agency across the federal government. Programs that support education, quality nutrition, and lifesaving medical treatment could all be on the chopping block.
The fight against poverty has been a bipartisan U.S. priority for decades, with increased investment and political leadership driving progress. Deaths of young children have been reduced by more than half since 1990, even as population has increased. There are 40 million fewer children missing out on primary school. Scientists believe an AIDS-free generation, once unimaginable, is now actually within reach. The White House proposal – or any funding cut – would put all of this in jeopardy.
Ultimately our country’s federal budget decisions lie with Congress, where there is longstanding bipartisan support for this work. Scores of members of both parties are on the record acknowledging that for a fraction of the federal budget, they are doing the right thing and the smart thing by investing in the end of poverty. In a divisive moment with a host of other political challenges, it will depend on their leadership to successfully counter the White House proposal.
Understanding the White House proposal
The blueprint from the White House includes only topline figures and select notes on the proposed budget. The full details will be made public later this spring when the White House releases its full formal budget request to Congress for Fiscal Year 2018. In the meantime, the following is clear:
Backlash against draconian cuts
From activists to faith leaders to military leaders, the White Budget blueprint was met with loud opposition. This extends to Capitol Hill, where leaders across the political spectrum have come out against the proposed cuts, from liberal Democrats to Freedom Caucus members.
“It’s dead on arrival, it’s not going to happen, it would be a disaster.”
– Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations
“Foreign aid is not charity. We must make sure it is well spent, but it is less than 1% of budget.”
“I’m absolutely shocked at the Administration’s puny request.”
– Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY), chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs
“Slashing foreign assistance would be foolhardy, weakening our leadership and emboldening our adversaries.”
– Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee
“…we must continue to invest in the International affairs budget.”
“…proposed cuts to the State Department and to the foreign assistance budget are an unreasonable and unjustifiable rejection of American values and global leadership.”
– Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
What’s next in the budget process
Ultimately Congress has the power of the purse. In the coming months, House and Senate committees will negotiate both the overall budget envelope, as well as actual funding amounts for individual programs (in the case of the global fight against poverty, these line items include everything from tuberculosis to education). If all moves ahead on schedule, these decisions would take effect in October, the start of Fiscal Year 2018 for the U.S. government.
Meanwhile, Congress must finalize spending levels for the current fiscal year, as the government is currently only funded by a short-term “continuing resolution” through April 28. Here too, the administration has suggested to Congress cutting spending for things like the global fight against poverty. But through their earlier work, the key committees in both the House and the Senate have signaled their intent to protect the overall envelope for foreign aid in this current budget year, as well as make increased investment in key areas like maternal and child health globally.
How Congress can reverse course
While leaders of all political stripes have pushed back against proposed cuts, real threats remain. Even a small cut to anti-poverty programs could have a devastating impact on millions of lives. Much of this work was underfunded in the first place. Leading tuberculosis experts believe current U.S. funding for the disease is only half of what it should be. A similar pattern holds for nutrition, which goes woefully underfunded, despite being the underlying cause of almost half of all childhood deaths. The list goes on.
Rather than pulling the rug out from under millions of families and communities, advocates are calling on Congress to protect and increase investment in what’s working. The chance to end the needless deaths of mothers and children around the world. The chance to achieve an AIDS-free generation. The chance to make sure every child gets a quality education. All of this is possible, but none of it is guaranteed. Cutting funding only pushes it further out of reach.
Where the White House has failed, it now falls to Congress to restore and expand this funding.