WASHINGTON, D.C. — Discussing foreign aid and global poverty can frequently be a divisive conversation. According to research, many Americans have false assumptions about the International Affairs Budget, believing the federal government spends 20 percent on foreign aid rather than the actual figure of less than 1 percent.
However, Congressional support for foreign aid remains high. Recent proposed budget cuts from the executive branch have faced stern opposition from Democrats and Republicans. Despite differing perspectives on foreign aid, both sides of the aisle recognize its importance. How to talk about foreign aid can, therefore, differ depending on an individual’s political ideology.
Republicans often prioritize the national security benefits that foreign aid brings. In the GOP manifesto in 2017, foreign aid is outlined as a crucial weapon in the U.S. arsenal, an “alternative means of keeping the peace, far less costly both in human lives and dollars than military engagement.”
Public statements from leading GOP members of Congress reflect this prioritization of national security. The proposed 2017 cuts were met with a chorus of opposition from Senate Republicans, in particular from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) who condemned the bill as doomed. “If you take soft power off the table, you’re never going to win the war”, Graham said.
While Democrats also share the national security concerns of Republicans, the Democratic platform offers more of a focus on specific poverty alleviation benefits of the foreign aid budget. In the party platform, issues surrounding child mortality, food security and disease prevention are highlighted as major benefits of U.S developmental assistance.
Public statements from Democratic officials also reflect this motivation to support the International Affairs Budget. On World Refugee Day in 2017, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi highlighted the conditions that cause refugee crises to develop and how foreign aid can alleviate such situations.
Across both major parties, a focus on benefits to the domestic economy is evident. In the Democratic party platform, the importance of investment in emerging economies is emphasized, and in the GOP manifesto it is stressed how open markets are a boon for private American investment.
These variations between the two parties give some suggestions as to how to talk about foreign aid when speaking to either Democrats or Republicans. Generally, a focus on national security appears to be more of a priority for Republicans, while Democrats favor the specific humanitarian programs that foreign aid establishes abroad. Economic benefits at home appear to be a shared motivation for representatives of both parties.
– Jonathan Riddick