Trump’s Next Budget Attack: Foreign Aid

Trump is ready to take a sledgehammer to the current federal budget. This is one of those cases where the involvement of Congress will probably be unfortunate, but he has enough House support that there will be many program cuts. He’s mentioned a few small moves, but now there is a little more light on one of his more ambitious goals. He wants to slash foreign aid spending.

Current Spending

Let’s talk about some numbers. This will come as a complete shock to you, but the U.S. spends more on foreign aid than any two other countries in the world. The total bill rings in at around $50 billion a year. While some of this is in the form of military assistance, the vast majority is through traditional aid programs that include basic health, agriculture, reproductive health, conflict prevention and civil society development.

In fact, military aid only accounts for 18 percent of the total spending. In terms of emergency response, the U.S. spends around $7 billion a year, compared to the $22.1 billion spent by the whole world. For those keeping score, that’s barely less than one-third of the total.

It’s important to talk about who receives the money too. Countries listed on Trump’s travel ban make up three of the top eight aid recipients. When Trump first said that we are giving money to groups who are active enemies, he hit the nail on the head. So, based on the amount of money being spent, it’s obvious why this is one of the main targets for his proposed budget cuts.

The Proposal

The final draft won’t be released until next week or so, but we know a few things already. The target goal is to reduce the current budget by $54 billion. This money will be repurposed for Trump’s other plans that include an increase in the military budget and domestic spending on infrastructure.

While Trump has mentioned massive cuts to foreign aid, a little perspective is necessary. A two-percent cut to the foreign aid budget would have a minimal impact on its overall function, but that move alone would represent more than a billion dollars toward the total goal.

Where the actual line will be drawn is yet to be seen, but if you follow the art of the deal, you can expect Trump to talk about much larger cuts to negotiate his real target of a few billion dollars.


This proposal comes with a wave of criticism, so we’ll address it. The biggest outcry is that it’s wrong to siphon money from those in need when foreign aid only accounts for one percent of the budget. There are a few things wrong with this.

First, one percent of the U.S. federal budget is a lot of money, and as we already discussed, a small portion of that chunk can make a huge difference in domestic spending. How much infrastructure could we buy with one or two billion dollars?

The second problem is that foreign aid money is notorious for being poorly spent. Roughly half of the money is given directly to governments that have a propensity for appropriating funds instead of spending them on aid.

John Glaser is the Director of Foreign Policy Studies at CATO, and he has pointed out that American foreign aid money already doesn’t reach those in greatest need. That’s because the biggest cause of need for relief is authoritarian governments that make it nearly impossible for us to distribute aid to the afflicted populations. Glaser also points out that cuts to U.S. foreign aid will likely have an insignificant impact on the programs that are supported.

But, what about the refugees! This is the other major point of contention. Worldwide, there are more refugees than there has been seen since WWII. This number is a little misrepresented. For starters, situations like Palestine artificially inflate refugee numbers as they are officially counted despite refusing every single settlement offer made in the last 50 years.

More to the point, the crisis in Syria and Iraq, largely involving ISIS, has displaced tens of millions of people. Helping these refugees is a military matter, and moving money from foreign aid that is given directly to Bashar al-Assad into the military budget to defeat ISIS is the most efficient and effective way to help the displaced masses.

In the end, the budget needs fixing, and it’s why we elected a businessman to the office. If Trump can move poorly spent aid money to better programs, then it will benefit everyone. We’ll have to wait and see the full scope of change, but early indicators make safe the assumption that the changes will be productive.

~ Facts Not Memes

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