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Glickman and Green: Cuts in Foreign Assistance Are Penny Wise and Pound Foolish

Washington is waiting with bated breath for the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction to find $1.5 trillion or more in spending reductions. At the same time, our former colleagues on Capitol Hill are wrangling with the appropriations process for fiscal 2012. We know all too well the critical imperative of getting our deficit under control, while also being strategic and protecting essential American investments.

We need rigorous cost-benefit analysis across the board to ensure American taxpayers are getting the most bang for each buck in these tough financial times. We know one of the best bargains anywhere, with the return far exceeding the investment, is funding that supports our leadership in the world, protects our national security and creates jobs here at home. And that is what we get in the international affairs budget.

In times like these, even the most important programs are, and should be, under the microscope. But we also need to be honest about what is at stake. If we slash our diplomatic and development programs, we are not going to balance our budget. After all, these programs make up about only about 1 percent of overall spending. There would, however, be some very real costs to the American people.

Isolating American businesses from fast-growing new markets overseas is not an option given today’s global economy. About 95 percent of consumers live outside the United States, presenting an enormous opportunity for new sales of American goods and services.

As we all know, small and medium-sized businesses are the job creators in this country, and they make up 97 percent of the businesses that benefit from exports. Nearly half of our exports already go to the developing world, and the potential for growth in this sector is enormous. That’s why services provided to small and medium-sized businesses across the country by our international affairs programs level are so important: They level the playing field so American businesses can compete for markets and opportunities in the developing world.

Even in the middle of a global financial crisis, our competitors around the world are not slowing down their investments in the developing world. Whether they are building trade relationships or assisting in infrastructure building, countries such as China and India are investing ever-larger percentages of their budget into international affairs programs.

Our military leaders are also crystal clear when it comes to the direct link between adequately funding our tools of development and diplomacy, and our national security. Investing a small amount up front to fight terrorism and despair prevents conflict down the road, which is cost-effective in dollars, but most importantly in the lives of our men and women in uniform. As former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said, “Development is a lot cheaper than sending soldiers.”

Disproportionately deep cuts now would also reverse efforts by both the Bush and Obama administrations to make our foreign assistance programs more effective and results driven. Significant gains have been made to demonstrate the value American taxpayers receive from the international affairs budget, and for the first time you can now track where U.S. Agency for International Development funds are going by country and program through the Foreign Assistance Dashboard. Cuts of nearly 30 percent are on the table for operating expenses at USAID, which would curtail efforts to ensure effectiveness and our ability to respond to crises overseas.

We know our former colleagues across Capitol Hill will have to make tough decisions about where to cut in order to get our budget back to balance. As they negotiate this tricky terrain, our hope is they will consider the cost-effectiveness of the international affairs budget and avoid deep and disproportionate cuts to these essential programs. The future growth of the economy and our security depend on their decision.

Former Rep. Dan Glickman (D-Kan.) served nine terms in the House before serving as the secretary of Agriculture. Former Rep. Mark Green (R-Wis.) served four terms in the House before serving as U.S. ambassador to Tanzania.

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