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Rep. Granger: Scope of Foreign Aid Misunderstood, But Budget Cuts Needed

March 10, 2011 at 12:00 AM EST
Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, speaks with Judy Woodruff about U.S. spending on foreign aid. Granger chairs the House subcommittee that appropriates foreign aid funding.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Next tonight, the new Republican House majority takes on foreign aid.

Ensuring the well-being of women and children has been a priority for the Obama administration’s foreign aid agenda.

On Capitol Hill today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defended global health programs.

U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: They save the lives of mothers and children. And we believe strongly that supporting women and girls is essential to building democracy and security.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The U.S. now spends $474 million on problems faced by women overseas. And the president’s 2012 budget would add another $372 million. That is just one part of the overall non-military foreign aid budget of $37 billion, which the Republican majority in the House wants to cut.

Amid tensions in the Middle East, the war in Afghanistan, and rising deficits, they argue all foreign aid must be tied to national security.

Yesterday, in an interview, former first lady Laura Bush argued maternal and child health is vital to national security.

LAURA BUSH, former first lady: Well, it is, really.

I think disease and all the things that we treat are tied to national security in a lot of ways that we maybe don’t realize, or that the American people don’t realize. If other countries have a chance to be stable, then that helps us.

Now to the key House Republican in charge of appropriating money for foreign aid. She is Congresswoman Kay Granger of Texas and chair of the Foreign Operations Subcommittee. And she joins us from Capitol Hill.

It’s good to have you with us.

REP. KAY GRANGER (R-Texas): Thank you very much.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, there is a lot of talk right now, Congresswoman Granger, about foreign aid, but let’s — and let’s begin with this question of maternal and child health.

As we just reported, President Obama wants to increase the funding for a program that falls under the Global Health Initiative. Is that something you support?

REP. KAY GRANGER: I haven’t seen it yet. I will look at it carefully.

But, in this time in our nation, it’s not a time to increase spending. What we have to do is look very carefully, prioritize, and see what is the most important thing today. We can’t continue to spend at the rate we have in the past. And I believe that very sincerely.

What we will do in this — in this situation — and I just heard you in your interview with Laura Bush — and she’s right. It is important. Maternal health is important and our global health is important.

But right now, at this time in our nation, we have to look at our national security and particularly in foreign aid, say, what is in our national security interest?

JUDY WOODRUFF: So when, as we heard Mrs. Bush say in that interview yesterday that supporting mothers, making families stronger is part of national security, would you agree with that?

REP. KAY GRANGER: I certainly would agree with that. I would agree with that and have talked to Mrs. Bush about it.

And, as you know, I have worked with CARE, which is very involved. And I’m saying — no one is saying that we’re going to cut everything out. But when we start to look at priorities, I say, in our national security interests, our national debt is hurting our national security.

So, the first thing we will look at in this bill in foreign aid is our funding for places — nations like Israel, where we have a commitment and made a commitment some time ago; Iraq, as our troops leave Iraq and the State Department takes over a lot of the responsibilities in Iraq; Afghanistan; Pakistan; and certainly Mexico at our southern border that is — the violence is spilling over into our border states.

And so, funding and helping our neighbor be secure and have a stable economy and safety is very important. And that’s where we will start.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, help us understand this concept of national security a little bit better, because, if it helps our national security to make families stronger, why, for example — there was a — I believe there was a 40 percent cut in the world — in the food aid program.

Why is that not considered vital to national security?

REP. KAY GRANGER: It’s not saying that — that I don’t believe it’s vital, as it is, for instance, securing our borders and help with Mexico in their fight against the drug cartels, because it directly affects our national security in this country.

But what we’re saying is, at this time, we’re going to have to make some cuts that are going to be painful cuts, but they’re cuts, whether it’s some of the climate change priorities of this administration, in some cases food security. And we’re saying, right now, at this time, and probably in the next few years, we can’t spend at that level in foreign aid for some of those programs.

Now, there are programs that we will zero out that I don’t think are effective. What we’re doing is looking at all the programs and saying, has it proved to be cost-effective and successful? And so, in a lot of our foreign aid, we will say, yes, we will continue that funding, perhaps at a lower level, but continue that funding.

But again, the priority — priority in this is our national security and direct national security. It doesn’t mean we’re cutting all the programs. But it means we’re taking a very tough look at those programs, giving probably closer oversight than we have in the past.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We also — I also spoke yesterday with Dr. Helene Gayle, whom you know, the CEO of CARE.

REP. KAY GRANGER: I do.

JUDY WOODRUFF: She expressed what she said was real worry about what she called misunderstanding among members of Congress, she said, who believe that foreign aid is a much bigger part of the budget than it actually is. It’s something like 1 percent of the overall budget.

How much of a misunderstanding do you think exists among members of Congress?

REP. KAY GRANGER: There’s a — there’s a huge misunderstanding among some members of Congress but primarily citizens and taxpayers.

Our numbers show it’s about 1 percent of the entire federal budget, about 5 percent of discretionary spending. And that’s what we’re focusing on right now is discretionary spending. But there is a misunderstanding. People do say they think it’s — if we cut foreign aid, then we’re back — we’re not in trouble again with our spending. And that’s just not the situation.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you believe there’s more pressure than is realistic to cut foreign aid, foreign assistance?

REP. KAY GRANGER: I think that there is more pressure because there’s this misunderstanding of how much that part of the budget is.

If we’re really going to cut spending, we have to go into entitlements. And that’s not the situation with foreign aid. But it’s a part of — it’s a part of the spending and certainly a part of the budget.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How far apart right now, Congresswoman Granger, would you say Republicans and Democrats are in the House on some of these questions we have been talking about?

REP. KAY GRANGER: There — there is a disagreement about the amount of funding, but I’m — I have always been proud in this budget, in this part of the budget, in foreign aid.

And foreign assistance is — is probably a more accurate word, term to use. But it’s been a bipartisan bill in the past. And I certainly hope it will be a bipartisan understanding and bill in the future. We — we pride ourselves on that subcommittee to work in a bipartisan way.

And again, this is just the beginning, as we look at those programs and say, do we have a matrix that — that lets us know what’s working?

You also interviewed Melinda Gates. And the Gates Foundation is very — not only been extremely generous and active in foreign assistance but also in setting up matrix and ways to look at what is effective and measure that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, Congresswoman Kay Granger, we thank you very much for talking with us. This is a story we are going to continue to follow.

Thank you very much.

REP. KAY GRANGER: Thank you.