The Politics of Poverty

Ideas and analysis from Oxfam America's policy experts

Congress, please add sugar to your tea party

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These are heartless times. Issues that should never be partisan, like helping the poorest of the poor survive, are falling to the wayside in the name of ensuring the top 1% of our wealthiest get to keep their disproportionately large tax cuts. It is extraordinary to see how far we seem to have come down […]

These are heartless times. Issues that should never be partisan, like helping the poorest of the poor survive, are falling to the wayside in the name of ensuring the top 1% of our wealthiest get to keep their disproportionately large tax cuts.

It is extraordinary to see how far we seem to have come down the road of self-interest. We know that there are many members of Congress, on both sides of the aisle, who understand and care about serving the long-term interests of the United States by tackling global poverty. Unfortunately, their voices are not being heard. Today, we witnessed the passage of a House Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations bill that eliminates even the relatively miniscule amounts of funding for such programs in the name of cutting our deficit. But this only puts many of our most vulnerable global citizens – women and children – at further risk.

A 12% cut to humanitarian aid, an 18% cut to Feed the Future and Development Assistance Programs, a 27% cut to USAID operations … the list goes on.

Perhaps the Subcommittee forgot that the entire international affairs budget, which covers both diplomacy and foreign aid, is only about 1% of the federal budget. And only half of that is spent on poverty-focused foreign aid. Last year alone, Americans spent as much on candy and even more on caring for their pets as the US government spent on helping poor people. Yet all we hear is that “wasteful spending” must be cut.

But cutting so called “wasteful spending” will be hurting our own interests as well as the poor and hungry.

For example, cuts to President Bush’s Millennium Challenge Corporation will severely hamper this unique and successful program. Its long-term approach and its focus on what actually helps countries emerge from poverty is key. It drives economic growth by addressing the root causes of past development failures, by listening to the legitimate solutions of stable governments rather than imposing them from afar, and by making long-term investments in institutions, all of which are conditional on key policy reforms, such as transparency, accountability, and getting results. What it isn’t is rewards to corrupt allies for being nice to us.

Zeroing out funding for climate change adaptation is another example that makes no sense and is clearly politics over substance. Such cuts hurt the poorest who must adapt to the dramatic and unexpected weather patterns that are devastating their crops and diminishing their ability to put food on the table. Think about the fact that 80% of the population of Ethiopia depends on agriculture for their livelihoods. And the dramatic hunger hitting Somalia and the Horn of Africa is partly due to record setting droughts. Influential national security voices have time and time again pointed out the risks of global food insecurity and inaction on agricultural climate change adaptation, but they are being flatly ignored.

As the bill moves forward, Congress should switch to coffee and wake up to the realities and consequences of too much tea-drinking. They say that all is fair in love and war. Not so. Let’s battle our deficit in ways we can look back on and feel good about. Show a little love and respect for the world’s poor and don’t cut critical foreign assistance.

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