It’s the laziest applause line in American politics: let’s cut foreign aid. Far too many voters assume the United States simply hands over a big chunk of our federal budget to benefit other countries, and politicians exploit that ignorance to further their own ambitions.
When elected officials push back against this knee-jerk position, it’s heartening. When a far-right congressman does it, it’s extraordinary. Over at ThinkProgress yesterday, Scott Keyes highlighted some unexpected comments from Rep. Tom Emmer, the Minnesota Republican who replaced Michele Bachmann in Congress.
Acknowledging his own past opposition to foreign aid – for example, he floated the idea of pulling U.S. foreign aid in a 2012 Facebook post – Emmer told viewers that his mind had changed on the matter after a recent trip to visit beneficiaries of foreign aid in Ethiopia and Kenya. “I have made the statement in the past that a dollar that we are spending for instance in Africa, in Kenya, is a dollar that we could probably be using at home to build a road or a bridge,” Emmer said. “Well it’s not that simple.”Instead, Emmer now argues, foreign aid can be a win-win. It helps pave the way for development in other countries, boosting their economies and in turn creating demand for American exports in the future. He recounted how an encounter with a dairy co-op in Kenya that has been boosted by funding from the United States Agency for International Development helped show him the light. “A dollar spent on [foreign aid] is a dollar that we won’t have to spend on additional bombs and bullets and God forbid boots on the ground in the future,” Emmer noted.
The GOP congressman added that federal funding for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is “frankly is less than one percent of our overall budget.”
Genuinely pleasant surprises from this Congress are rare. Emmer’s comments qualify.
For those unfamiliar with the Minnesota Republican, no one has ever called Tom Emmer a “moderate.” Right Wing Watch has reported on his previous efforts, for example, including his work as the former state chairman of Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition.
Indeed, as Scott Keyes’ report added, Emmer is also a climate denier, an opponent of the minimum wage, and a former state lawmaker who proposed nullifying the Affordable Care Act in Minnesota. There’s a reason Michele Bachmann’s former constituents elected the guy.
But at least on the issue of foreign aid, the congressman is saying what needs to be said. Good for him.