President Bush's proposed State Department budget for foreign aid is
coming under attack by aid organizations and a prominent Bay Area congressman
who say they expected more to meet the goals of the war on terrorism.
The disappointment among a coalition of 160 international aid groups and
Rep. Tom Lantos, D-San Mateo, is all the greater because Bush and other
administration leaders have said regularly since the Sept. 11 terrorist
attacks that the government planned to do more to combat poverty and promote
democracy in lands that breed hopelessness and terrorists.
"We have a great opportunity during the time of war to lead the world
toward the values that will bring lasting peace," Bush said in his State of
the Union address.
The administration proposes a 3.6 percent budget increase to $13.88
billion for the State Department, including a $747 million boost in
international aid spending. However, aid groups say the biggest increase would
go to foreign military financing, which is set to rise $457 million, to $4.1
In seven core aid categories, devoted to things like basic education and
health programs, help for women and children, disaster relief and promotion of
democracy, spending would hit $4 billion, up from the current $235 million.
"The rhetoric does not match the reality," said Mary McClymont, president
of InterAction, the umbrella group of 160 overseas aid groups. The coalition,
which for years has been decrying what it says is the chronically low level of
U.S. foreign aid spending, called yesterday for spending in the seven
categories to double in the next five years. "The eyes of the American people
opened wider after Sept. 11. . . . They have begun to understand that their
own safety and security may be linked to places like Afghanistan," she said.
While surveys regularly show the public thinks that about 20 percent of
federal spending goes for foreign aid, the actual figure is less than 1
Denmark leads the world in per person aid spending, with 1 percent of its
gross domestic product being spent to help poor countries. The United States
spends just 0.1 percent. However, in terms of the number of actual dollars
spent, the United States is No. 2, trailing only Japan.
According to Lantos, the ranking Democrat on the House International
Relations Committee who is a leading hawk in the war against terrorism, Bush's
budget actually cuts the State Department's spending, when post-Sept. 11
emergency appropriations are included. "I'm concerned because we need not only
smart bombs, but also smart diplomacy," he said.
"I find it particularly disappointing that we are cutting spending for
international broadcasting and public diplomacy," said Lantos, who helped push
for creation of Radio Free Afghanistan, a new broadcast service that Congress
wants but the president hasn't included in his budget.
"The relative magnitude that we spend on defense and on development
assistance and public diplomacy are in different universes," he said.
Secretary of State Colin Powell defended his budget yesterday before the
Senate Budget Committee.
"I wish that it was twice as much, three times as much, four times as much,
" he said.
But Powell said he recognized that even in a faltering economy and facing a
budget deficit, the president felt obliged to give big increases to the
Pentagon, which is projected to get $47 billion more, and homeland security
"Recognizing the important needs that the Defense Department has and the
new need for homeland security, I am rather pleased that we are still able to
get a real increase in our budget for this year as well," he added.
Powell, the former general and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, told the
committee the U.S. military's shield for its allies should also be considered
in the foreign aid debate.
"The fact that we provide defense for the free world I think should also be
taken into account," he said. "We spend more on defense than anyone else, and
it is behind that screen of security that we provide for the civilized world
that we are able to do the kinds of development activities that I talk about
in my budget."
©2002 San Francisco Chronicle