NEWARK, Delaware — In March 2021, Democratic lawmakers proposed an increase in emergency support for the upcoming fiscal year’s International Affairs Budget. Senators Chris Murphy and Chris Van Hollen called for an additional $12 billion, which they said “prudently realigns our national security priorities and gives us the tools needed to improve the livelihoods of Americans and address the most pressing threats facing the U.S. and the world.” Lawmakers insist increasing funding towards the budget can benefit both the United States and partner countries by boosting global health and overall protection.
Why Foreign Aid is Important Now
Lawmakers called for additional spending to emphasize the importance of putting out a plan prior to the new administration’s budget finalizations and to set a precedent for specific spending. Sen. Murphy took the Senate floor to address the urgent need to increase funding and to show the importance of specificity when it comes to the budget. “This is a unique moment with a new administration and a new understanding in the American public of the threats presented to the United States, for us to reset our national security budget,” said Murphy.
Increasing the budget will also help the overall security of the nation. Countries like China have increased their funding for diplomacy and found great success, so lawmakers are calling for the United States to do the same. This would also help the fight against violent extremism by making a non-military investment to support democracy and free markets.
Past military leaders have recommended this course of action for the same reasons. In 2017, Admiral Mike Mullen and General James Jones, among others, advocated for fully funding the International Affairs Budget. They wrote that advancing “stable nations that are making progress on social development, economic growth and good governance” is the key to security in the United States. These countries should also “enforce the rule of law and invest in the health and education of their own people.”
International Affairs and COVID-19
With the pandemic having passed its one-year mark, the United States government is aware that it cannot fight the virus alone. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, spoke with The Borgen Project in an interview. He said, “The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that the United States cannot isolate itself from the world. As we seek to expand access to critical health services for people in the United States, we must also accelerate our efforts to support critical health organizations and join governments around the world in sharing information and best practices on how to effectively address the current pandemic.”
By increasing funding for the International Affairs Budget, the United States can open more pathways for life-saving resources between America and other countries during the pandemic. Prioritizing an increase in funding for global public health allows the United States to better prepare for any future health emergencies as well.
New Focus on China
Senators Chris Murphy and Chris Van Hollen, alongside Representatives David Cicilline and Ami Bera, advocated that the increase would help the U.S. compete with China. This was a focus of the Biden administration in the first few months of office.
“Today’s most pressing challenges, from the COVID-19 pandemic, to a rising China, to the climate crisis, require aid workers that can take vaccines abroad to keep us all safe from the next pandemic, diplomats that can rally our allies and partners in response to China, and negotiators that can bring the world together to prevent the worst of climate change. None of these are military problems,” said Bera.
In order to compete with China, the four lawmakers proposed an $85 million increase over the fiscal year to the State Department’s Global Engagement Center. By doing so, the United States will continue to progress technologically and economically alongside China.
Sen. Menendez told The Borgen Project that increasing the International Affairs Budget is crucial to prioritize. He said that he would “continue [to]monitor the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and continue to work with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to promote robust and responsible foreign assistance programs that support developing nations to provide for the education, health and empowerment of their people.”
Lawmakers are especially pressing for an increase in the International Affairs Budget due to the United States’ previous reductions in foreign aid spending. During the previous rounds of budgeting, the Trump administration did not emphasize foreign aid and global health security compared to years before. The budget increase could allow for an expansion in access to critical health services for people in the United States. At the same time, it would also give other countries access to information on how to effectively bring the pandemic closer to its end.
The International Affairs Budget makes up 1% of the United States federal budget but has one of the largest impacts on America and the world. By prioritizing international funding, America can provide relief for some of the world’s most vulnerable communities, especially during a global pandemic. Many members of Congress are looking to strengthen the United States’ influence as well as provide much-needed relief to the world’s poor, which increasing the International Affairs Budget will accomplish.
– Jai Phillips