On Friday, former Republican Rep. Jim Kolbe came to Northwestern University. The 8th Congressional District of Arizona’s former congressman spoke to Northwestern’s Political Union, a community of students interested in global affairs that hosts weekly informal debates. We were excited to bring the former congressman, a fellow Wildcat himself, to a lively discussion about American leadership in foreign aid and international development. Mr. Kolbe reminded us all why we should bother caring about the world’s poorest people even as we tend to our own fiscal house.
Mr. Kolbe started by speaking about the inevitable cuts we will be making to many different pieces of our upcoming federal budgets. But, in light of those cuts, he told us, “At a time when we’re cutting back on our military commitments, more than ever, we need to make commitments to the non-military side, the development side.”
Mr. Kolbe continued, “I think it’s instructive that the new conservative government in Britain, headed by David Cameron, came into office and their first budget they presented to the Parliament has massive cuts… except for one area, and that was in the international affairs budget, which actually got a significant increase. Wisely, Cameron and the Parliament recognized that at a time they’re cutting their military budget, they have to be willing to increase this side of their budget.”
Mr. Kolbe also made sure to clear the air about how much the US spends on its international affairs budget. After a back-and-forth with the audience about how much people think we spend on international affairs, Mr. Kolbe told us, “Just about one percent of our budget goes to foreign aid. When the American people are told that it is one percent, they’re shocked. They think 20 percent of spending goes to foreign assistance. When they learn it’s one percent, the reaction is, ‘That’s not enough for our international affairs! We need to be spending more.’” It’s clear that Northwestern’s students agreed: After our discussion with Mr. Kolbe, the members of the Political Union overwhelmingly rejected the resolution presented, “the United States can no longer afford to maintain its international leadership through foreign aid.”
One of the most important ways the US can continue its international leadership is by promoting childhood health and disease prevention. New vaccines can help prevent 4 million child deaths by 2015, but only if we commit to supporting their distribution. Speak out now to ask our leaders to fund proven, effective measures that protect children around the world.