Foreign aid has few domestic allies. Aid programs weathered steep cuts in the recent budget deal in Congress, and a plan from Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) would slash spending on international affairs and foreign assistance by an eye-popping 44 percent by 2016. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has called for the abolishment of aid programs, including to Israel, and protests in the Middle East have evoked sharp questions about the effectiveness and goals of U.S. aid.
What’s the point of U.S. foreign aid, and does it do any good? Let’s topple a few misconceptions and find out.
1. Republicans hate foreign aid.
Former congressman Tom Delay (R-Tex.) once noted that it was difficult for lawmakers to explain to their constituents why they were more interested in helping Ghana than Grandma. Yet every Republican president since Dwight Eisenhower has been a staunch advocate for foreign aid programs.
In signing the Foreign Assistance Act of 1974, Gerald Ford resisted congressional restrictions on food aid. Ronald Reagan launched the National Endowment for Democracy in 1983 to help “foster the infrastructure of democracy — the system of a free press, unions, political parties, universities” around the globe, as he put it in a speech before the British Parliament. Declaring that America needed to lead the fight against the HIV/AIDS pandemic, George W. Bush established the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief in 2003. According to the Congressional Research Service, this fund, along with money for Iraq reconstruction, was part of the largest appropriation for foreign aid in three decades. When it came to opening the nation’s wallet to the world, these conservative commanders in chief weren’t very conservative.