Last Wednesday, USAID Administrator Raj Shah and MCC CEO Daniel Yohannes testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on the President’s FY’12 budget request and the future of foreign assistance programs. Yet, Shah and Yohannes barely got a word in edgewise as members on both sides of the aisle succumbed to partisan debate over whether the U.S. can afford to pay for foreign assistance programs. And the debate was hardly constructive.
Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) remained above the fray, kicking off the hearing with some promising comments about the need to emphasize partnerships with the private sector and be more accountable with our aid dollars—with the ultimate goal of promoting economic growth. Ranking Member Howard Berman (D-CA) hit on some important reform principles both USAID and MCC have implemented into programs and policies whether those principles are about emphasizing science and technology as part of USAID Forward or embracing transparency and accountability with MCC compacts. Ultimately, Berman said the committee should be focused on ensuring that every tax dollar is put to best possible use but that doesn’t mean we should cut foreign assistance funding.
Following opening remarks from committee members, Shah and Yohannes summarized their testimony. Shah outlined specific cuts USAID has identified to streamline the agency including development assistance cuts to 20 countries and shutting down USAID missions in three countries. Shah also talked about the work USAID does side-by-side with the military, particularly in the frontline states. Yohannes talked more theoretically about why the MCC model works in countries, pointing to a successful agriculture program in Honduras—which no longer receives MCC funds.
The QA session turned into a back-and-forth pitch with Republicans constantly asserting, “We’re broke” and Democrats saying not only would cuts fail to significantly impact the deficit but such cuts would negatively impact our national security over the long-term; Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) said, “Do you walk to school or take your lunch?” to which Shah replied “we need to walk to school and take our lunch.” After attacking Democrats for their failure to identify cuts across the board, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) said we need to reexamine everything “including defense”, adding that is a “legitimate criticism of Republicans” who are not willing to cut the defense budget. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) gave Shah and Yohannes a chance to discuss the success and failure of programs asking simply “what works” and “what doesn’t work.” Lastly, the same day he introduced the Foreign Aid Accountability Act, Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) presented his ideas to the witnesses to which Shah countered these programs are a huge investment in national security and that we’re not just writing checks.
For more coverage of the hearing, see MFAN Partner the Center for Global Development’s blog, courtesy of Sarah Jane Staats.