The Politics of Poverty

Ideas and analysis from Oxfam America's policy experts

President Trump thinks cutting aid will fix US debt. But his numbers don’t add up.

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Frank, a community health worker (CHW) with the USAID-funded Tingathe program, explains the results of a HIV test to a couple expecting their first child. By identifying and offering HIV testing and counseling to women early in their pregnancy, Tingathe CHWs drive timely diagnosis and initiation of antiretroviral therapy (ART). (Photo: Baylor College of Medicine Children's Foundation–Malawi / Robbie Flick / USAID)

A closer look shows the reality.

In a recent interview, President Trump made a rare comment on foreign assistance. Unfortunately, he undervalued its impact and overvalued its cost.

In response to questions on why he wants to gut US foreign aid, he said: “For me, it’s America first. We’ve been doing that so long that we owe $20 trillion, okay?” This response suggests that the president believes our national debt is a direct result of our foreign aid spending. And while it might be a neat talking point, it’s far from the truth.

The fact is, the United States spends approximately 0.8 percent of its federal budget on humanitarian and development assistance annually (traditionally described as “foreign aid”), and only 1.5 percent of the budget if you include all international affairs spending, like funding for US diplomacy. Compare that to the 6.1 percent that is spent just on US debt interest each year.  With payments on US debt interest alone more than seven times foreign aid spending, the president’s claim that foreign aid is driving US debt issues is false.  Eliminating US spending on foreign aid would have very little impact on US debt, while creating devastating consequences for poor people all over the world, and severely hampering US leadership and future prosperity

Data source: Congressional Budget Office, FY 2015 US Federal Budget. http://bit.ly/1O9j9by

Simply put: Foreign assistance is being used as a scapegoat for a rising deficit instead of things like tax cuts for corporations and the richest among us, which are core to the administration’s policy agenda and are shown to contribute to the national debt. The Washington Post’s analysis on this front brings some important context.

President Trump could clearly use a primer on US foreign assistance. We’d like to recommend this one.

 

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