GOP's Proposed Cuts To Africa Aid Criticized

President Obama and Congress have been debating how to shape this year's budget. Among the cuts House Republicans are proposing is a reduction in the amount of aid the U.S. gives to Africa. Michael Gerson, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, talks to Steve Inskeep about why he is critical of the GOP's proposal.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

The many budget cuts proposed by House Republicans in recent days, include cuts in aid to Africa. House Speaking John Boehner explains cuts like that with a simple sentence. Quote, "We're broke." Michael Gerson argues for s second look.

Gerson was a speechwriter to President George W. Bush. He now writes for the Washington Post, focuses on African issues, among other things, and is just back from Senegal.

Welcome back to the program, sir.

Mr. MICHAEL GERSON (Washington Post): Great. It's good to be with you.

INSKEEP: What does U.S. aid - the targeted aid here to Africa - do?

Mr. GERSON: Well, it's pretty extraordinary when you're on the ground. You know, in a variety of way the U.S. government has helped Senegal in, you know, over the last 10 years, in ways that it hasn't before. And one of the results is that child mortality for children under six has -between 2005 and 2008 - really just four years - has decreased by a third.

INSKEEP: And that's because of programs like anti-malaria programs and that sort of thing.

Mr. GERSON: Right. There's a variety of reasons for that - maternal and child health, vaccinations. But the main cause for these reductions is really malaria, which is the killer of children. And it's, you know, these are some of the most dramatic gains in the history of public health.

And I was out, you know, in the countryside looking at these programs, at the same time on my iPhone, getting reports that Republicans were cutting these programs, I think, in a very misguided effort to reduce the deficit.

INSKEEP: Well, let's clarify here. They're not zeroing out these programs. But you give a list of cuts. The global fund, down 40 percent; child survival programs, including this anti-malaria effort, down 10 percent; AIDS relief, down; development assistance, down. Not zeroed out, but cut back. What're your fellow Republicans missing?

Ms. GERSON: Well, I think what they're missing is the nature of our fiscal crisis. These cuts in discretionary spending, you know, are not the problem. You know, we don't have a deficit crisis because we spend too much money on bed nets and AIDS drugs. We have a deficit crisis because we have entitlements, and aging population, and health cost inflation.

And by pretending that you can solve our deficit problem with cuts like these, which are both irrelevant and destructive, you're actually subtracting from our seriousness on the deficit issue.

INSKEEP: Now, with the argument made, Michael Gerson, you're probably aware of surveys showing that while Americans don't seem to like any spending cuts at all, cuts to foreign aid are practically the only spending cut that seems to have at least some strong support. People do ask - if you hear about foreign aid, they'll ask why is this an American obligation? Why is it?

Mr. GERSON: Well, there are a couple of reasons here. I think many Americans don't know the success stories. There's a perception that foreign aid is thrown down a rat hole of corruption. And sometimes the media feeds that. But it's simply not true. I mean, these - particularly with AIDS, malaria vaccinations - these are some of the greatest American successes since the Marshall Plan. And Americans need to know about it and they generally don't.

But there are also important economic and security arguments here. Everywhere I went in Senegal, for example, you see the Chinese building schools, providing drugs. They do that for a specific reason.

INSKEEP: Oh, they're investing big in Africa. Yeah.

Mr. GERSON: They are. Well, because this is an emerging market, it's a type of public diplomacy, we gain influence in places that we might not normally. And in Africa in particular it's had a huge effect on the image of America, which I think will serve us well in the long run.

INSKEEP: OK. Well, Mr. Gerson it's always a pleasure to speak with you.

Mr. GERSON: Great to be with you.

INSKEEP: Michael Gerson is a former speechwriter to President George W. Bush. He's with the Council on Foreign Relations now and writes for the Washington Post.

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