Cutting foreign aid is not going to significantly impact our budget or deficit


In response to Bob Paddock’s letter to West Hawaii Today about government belt-tightening, the information he craves about U.S. foreign assistance and the national budget is just a mouse click away. U.S. foreign assistance in 2011 amounted to just over 1 percent of the federal budget. In dollar terms, economic and military assistance came to about $50 billion out of the total 2011 gederal budget of $3.6 trillion. But according to Paddock’s logic, slashing foreign aid would allow us to come close to balancing our budget and significantly reduce our deficit. Not hardly, by any stretch of the facts. Yes, $50 billion is a lot and there is merit in the “every little bit counts” argument, but let’s get real. Cutting foreign aid is not going to significantly impact our budget or deficit.

Let’s look a bit further into this myth of the size of U.S. foreign aid. According to the Washington Post, polls show that “… the average American believed that a whopping 25 percent of the federal budget goes to foreign aid.” They further believed that the appropriate level should be about 10 percent. This is 10 times the actual amount. Americans obviously need to better educate themselves about these issues.

I have worked in Third World countries and have seen the good, bad and ugly sides of U.S. foreign assistance. Most aid is well-intentioned and designed to provide humanitarian and development assistance; some aid is meant to put forward American policy initiatives. Most of the time poor people benefit; sometimes things go off the rails and fall apart. Foreign aid could be improved, but selectively. Proposing an across the board cut in foreign aid is disingenuous and would do little to help us with our budgetary and deficit problems. It should also be noted that a large chunk of this money comes back home since it is used to buy U.S. goods and services and pay salaries of Americans.

There should be no argument about the need to reduce deficit spending, but let’s pick the right targets.

Eliminate government waste, duplication and overlapping programs; excessive military spending, especially on weapons systems and overseas bases; oil, gas and agricultural subsidies; and tax breaks and loopholes all around. These are the things we should be picking on. This would reduce expenditure and provide additional revenue. We need to look closer to home for ways to fix our budget woes, not single out foreign aid to solve our problems.

A serious uptick in our economy would be even more effective in reducing the deficit. More jobs and more money made across the board would result in greater revenues to pay down the national debt. What would help to do that? Increased investment in job creation by reducing the overall uncertainty that businesses and we all feel about the future of this country. At the root of our national uncertainty are partisan bickering, lack of compromise, gridlock and ideological focus on peripheral social issues in Congress and the rabid media on both ends of the political spectrum. America still has a strong underlying economic foundation on which further growth can be built.

As Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” Perhaps it’s easier to cherry pick and distort your facts and then blame hapless souls in unseen places for our problems. Can we ever get our facts straight and find a way to work together?

Richard Ainsworth is a resident of Waikoloa.

Viewpoint articles are the opinion of the writer and not necessarily the opinion of West Hawaii Today.