For a Congress aiming at budget reductions, foreign aid was an
obvious target. It was thus no surprise when Congress agreed
recently to big cuts in foreign aid, accelerating a decade-long
What has surprised many diplomatic observers is the extent to
which the 104th Congress, convinced that foreign aid has been a
waste of taxpayers' money, has turned its back on one of the
guiding premises of postwar American foreign policy.
Since the 1950s, aid to alleviate poverty and hunger has been
viewed as a means of enhancing economic growth and political
stability in nations important to US interests.
Billions of dollars later, many lawmakers are not convinced that
the investment has paid off.
"What we're seeing is not just a continuation of a downward
trend in the amount of development assistance but a change in
attitude on the part of Congress," says Peter Shiras, director of
government relations at InterAction, a Washington-based consortium
of 160 US nonprofit humanitarian organizations. "It no longer
recognizes the positive contribution foreign aid makes abroad and
how it serves US national interests."
The foreign-aid bill, approved by the House Oct. 31 and the
Senate on Nov. 1, appropriates $12.1 billion for the current fiscal
year, some $2.7 billion less than the amount President Clinton
Final passage of the legislation has been held up by a dispute
over an amendment to bar US funds to organizations abroad that
If the issue is not resolved, Congress is expected to pass a
long-term continuing resolution at the $12.1 billion level approved
in a House-Senate conference committee.
Middle East winners
The big winners, this year as before, are Israel and Egypt,
which receive $3 billion and $2 billion respectively - more than 40
percent of the US foreign-aid budget as a continuing reward for
signing the 1977 Camp David peace treaty.
The biggest losers are less developed countries.
General aid for education, health care, family-planning
assistance, and environmental programs in poor nations was cut by
one-third. Funds to alleviate poverty in Africa - home to half the
world's poor - are likely to be cut at least 20 percent.
Meanwhile, last year's $1.2 billion US contribution to the World
Bank affiliate that provides low-interest loans to poor nations was
cut by 42 percent.
In all, at least half the $2.7 billion reduction in foreign aid
from last year will be sustained by programs devoted to development
The cut perpetuates a gradual trend. Development assistance as a
percentage of the American gross domestic product has dropped from
1 percent to less than half a percent since the 1960s. The US share
of total worldwide bilateral development assistance has dropped
from 63 to 17 percent since the mid-1950s. As a percentage of total
US foreign aid, meanwhile, development assistance drops this year
from 30 to 22 percent.
At the same time, however, substantial amounts are donated by
private citizens to support development projects in third-world