STEVE ROTHMAN headshot 58.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
America’s national deficit will burden future generations and hurt the long-term
well-being of our nation. That is why, as the stewards of our constituents’
hard-earned dollars, Congress must always ensure that every cent we spend is for
an absolutely essential purpose. But we must never forget that in meeting
Congress’ first priority – keeping America safe – there is no better value than
the 1 percent of the budget spent each year on foreign aid and
Some of my Republican colleagues have suggested that America
would be better off if we drastically cut our foreign aid and other State
This type of thinking is based on the faulty
assumption that the current level of funding is disproportionately high compared
to other priorities. With only 1% of the US federal budget allocated for these
programs, nothing could be further from the truth.
US spending on foreign
aid and diplomacy under president Ronald Reagan was never less than 1.1% of the
federal budget. Today, in our more interconnected, equally complex and hostile
world, our country would be less secure if we removed our diplomatic presence.
It would be a detriment to reduce our national security if the US didn’t have
Americans who know foreign languages, live in other countries and understand the
cultures and histories of those nations.
Without knowledgeable American
personnel on the ground, how could we make fully-informed decisions on which
diplomatic and/or military alliances to strengthen and which to weaken or break?
Without the information we gather from our international efforts, how would we
know which countries could be brought over to democracy, become better trading
partners or be more cooperative with the West? Military professionals, from the
secretary of defense to the American forces on the ground, agree about the
importance of foreign aid and State Department programs. As Secretary of Defense
Robert Gates said last September: “Development is a lot cheaper than sending
A poll commissioned in 2010 by the US Global Leadership
Coalition concluded that “nearly 90% of active-duty and retired military
officers agree that the tools of diplomacy and development are critical to
achieving US national security objectives, and a strong military alone is not
enough to protect America.”
And put succinctly by the chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, in a letter to Congress last year about
these programs: “The more significant the cuts, the longer military operations
will take, and the more and more lives are at risk.”
WITH US troops
deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq; Iran racing toward nuclear weapons; the
volatile situations in Egypt, Lebanon, Sudan, and Tunisia; and terror threats
emerging from Somalia, Yemen and virtually every corner of the world, now is not
the time to have fewer embassies or fewer diplomats working to avert war and
nuclear proliferation. US interests would certainly not be well served if we
were to deny military aid to allies that help us fight terrorism, protect
essential sea lanes, provide safe ports for our troops and deliver world-class
intelligence in real time.
Indeed, for these reasons and many more, our
foreign aid and diplomatic budget has a return on investment that is at least
Cutting foreign aid will not right our struggling economy,
but will ultimately cost us more in US lives and taxpayer dollars. It will
surely cause direct and substantial harm to America’s national
That is why, while we need to cut spending, to get rid of
waste, and while we need to find additional sources of revenue, a dramatic
reduction in the 1% of the budget devoted to foreign aid and diplomacy is not
There are other cuts that would reduce our deficit without harming
national security. For example, we could begin with cutting the approximately $4
billion a year given to the oil and gas industries to encourage them to look for
energy. Oil companies do not need taxpayer encouragement for that purpose,
especially as they continue to post record profits.
Congress can also cut
bloated agriculture subsidies, particularly for food-based biofuels, and roll
back non-stimulative tax breaks for individuals with incomes of more than $1
million per year.
These steps would save billions of wasted taxpayer
dollars each year.
I look forward to working with my Republican and
Democratic colleagues to address our unacceptable federal deficit, but we must
make cuts where they make sense, not where they jeopardize national
The writer, an eight term congressman from New Jersey, serves
on the House Appropriations Subcommittees on Defense, and State and Foreign
Operations, which appropriate all spending for the military and foreign aid.