Trump’s Budget Proposal Threatens Global Development and Health

The Trump Administration’s first federal budget blueprint represents a massive distortion of American priorities, places critical domestic and international programs at serious risk, and threatens US national security and global leadership. The proposed $54 billion in cuts to both domestic and international programs  includes reductions of about 28 percent to the State Department and USAID budgets, currently at around $50 billion. Bundled within those cuts is a 38 percent reduction in US foreign assistance funding. Approval of this budget would prove absolutely disastrous to US foreign policy priorities and international development programs, all of which have, until now, included women’s rights as a priority.

IWHC is deeply concerned about the far-reaching impacts of this destructive budget proposal. Working with partners around the world and advocating for a US foreign policy that is rooted in justice and equality for women, IWHC has seen the positive impacts of US investments in diplomacy, development, health, and human rights. The United States is currently the largest contributor to global health aid. Its leadership on HIV, for example, has allowed millions of people to access HIV treatment, catalyzed investments in groups that are most affected by HIV—like adolescent girls—and saved millions of lives.

Cuts to the budgets of the State Department and USAID put years of global development progress at risk, particularly in the areas of sexual and reproductive health and gender equality.

Under the Obama Administration, gender was also recognized as a foreign policy priority in the US budget. In fiscal year 2017, the Obama Administration requested $1.3 billion for global programs that included gender as a key focus, including initiatives tackling an array of issues such as improving health, eliminating gender-based violence, and ending child marriage.

Shifting funding away from diplomacy and development and into military spending sends a devastating message to the global community about US priorities and goals. With a current defense budget of around $590 billion, the United States already spends more on its military than the next seven countries combined. Foreign assistance spending makes up less than 1 percent of the federal budget, but it contributes to US strategic interests around the world. Experts have consistently argued that investment in gender equality, health, education, humanitarian assistance, and other priorities makes the United States and the world safer. In late February, 120 retired three- and four-star generals signed a letter to congressional leaders urging them to “ensure that resources for the International Affairs Budget keep pace with the growing global threats and opportunities we face.”

Equally alarming is the Trump Administration’s continued targeting of  the United Nations. Recent news reports indicate that State Department staff have been instructed to indentify ways to cut more than 50 percent of current US funding for UN programs. Agencies like UNICEF, the UN Development Programme, and peacekeeping operations are expected to bear the brunt of these cuts. Some reports have suggested that the Administration is also considering a 36 percent reduction to UN humanitarian aid programs—a proprosal that one expert has already called “the breakdown of the international humanitarian system as we know it.” The United States currently contributes about $10 billion to the UN each year, and this funding plays a critical role in supporting global development initiatives, responses to crises, and promoting rule of law and human rights.

Regardless of the final outcome of government funding negotiations, which will likely continue in Congress throughout the year, this budget is the latest in a series of attacks from the Trump Adminstration against multilateralism, diplomatic engagement, and effective development. The impact is compounded by policies like the global gag rule, which cuts off funding to many effective providers of health services on ideological grounds. And statements like UN Ambassador Nikki Haley’s that the United States would be “taking names” of countries that oppose American policies at the United Nations adds to a narrative that the United States is retreating from its global commitments and ceding leadership in global spaces.

Now is not the time for retreat. Last year’s Sustainable Development Goals set the international community on an ambitious new development track. To meet these global goals will require increased resources and investments from the United States and other donor countries. US leadership proved critical to getting commitments to gender equality, the empowerment of women and girls, and women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights in that agenda. US funding will be equally important in seeing the vision of the agenda realized in communities around the world.

Members of Congress, from both parties, have registered major concerns about the Trump Administration’s proposal, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell telling reporters that a budget that cuts State Department funding by a third could “probably not” pass the Senate.

IWHC and partners will be working closely with  them to oppose these cuts and to promote a more responsible plan to fully fund US international priorities.  We have made too much progress in recent years to see effective programs rolled back because of politics in Washington. We will not sit by and let years of development advances be undermined by funding cuts and watch programs be decimated. Women’s and girls’ lives lie in the balance.

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