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Shah: GOP budget would kill 70,000 children

As Congress struggles to negotiate a budget deal to keep the government running, the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) told lawmakers Wednesday that the GOP version of the budget bill would result in the deaths of at least 70,000 children who depend on American food and health assistance around the world. ...

AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

As Congress struggles to negotiate a budget deal to keep the government running, the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) told lawmakers Wednesday that the GOP version of the budget bill would result in the deaths of at least 70,000 children who depend on American food and health assistance around the world.

"We estimate, and I believe these are very conservative estimates, that H.R. 1 would lead to 70,000 kids dying," USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah testified before the House Appropriations State and Foreign Ops subcommittee.

"Of that 70,000, 30,000 would come from malaria control programs that would have to be scaled back specifically. The other 40,000 is broken out as 24,000 would die because of a lack of support for immunizations and other investments and 16,000 would be because of a lack of skilled attendants at birth," he said.

The Republican bill, known as H.R.1, was passed by the House, and would fund the government for the rest of fiscal 2011. It would effectively cut 16 percent from the Obama administration’s original fiscal 2011 request for the international affairs account.

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL) pointed out that H.R. 1 would provide $430 million for the International Disaster Assistance (IDA) account, which is 50 percent below the president’s fiscal 2011 request and 67 percent below fiscal 2010 levels.

Shah said that such a cut "would be, really, the most dramatic stepping back away from our humanitarian responsibilities around the world in decades." The IDA account supports 1.6 million people in Darfur, so halving the account would place 800,000 people at risk, he said.

"[T]his would lead to a significant amount of reduction in feeding programs, medical programs and food and water programs for people who are incredibly vulnerable," he added.

Shah was also testifying in defense of the administration’s fiscal 2012 budget request, which also faces the axe on Capitol Hill. Subcommittee Chairwoman Kay Granger (R-TX) opened the hearing by announcing that the administration’s fiscal 2012 request was dead on arrival.

"While I understand the value of many of these important programs, the funding request for next year is — is truly unrealistic in today’s budget environment," she said. "We simply cannot fund everything that has been funded in the past. And we certainly cannot continue to fund programs that are duplicative and wasteful."

Granger said she would support USAID programs that have national security implications or contribute to the ongoing missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Her Democratic counterpart, Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), said that national security is threatened by instability in other parts of the world as well.

"Drastic cuts to USAID would risk a great deal in stability and security around the world which could spawn the kinds of threats that cost this country the lives of men and women in uniform and billions in treasure," she said.

Shah argued that foreign assistance is crucial to the long term economic recovery because it helps develop markets for American goods.

"USAID’s work also strengthens America’s economic security. By establishing links to consumers at the bottom of the pyramid, we effectively position American countries to enter more markets and sell more goods in the economies of the future, promoting exports and creating American jobs," he said.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin