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The Super Committee’s Role in Foreign Assistance

The Super Committee: What is it? What does it do? How can its actions affect foreign assistance?

FACT:  The need to reduce the U.S. deficit is urgent.

To this end, as part of the Budget Control Act of 2011, in order to reduce the deficit, Congress has put together the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction or the “Super Committee.”

The Super Committee is comprised of 12 members of Congress—six Democrats and six Republicans (three each from the House and Senate).  They must recommend ways to save at least $1.2 trillion over ten years—either by making cuts to current spending or increasing revenue through tax increases—by November 23, 2011. Congress will then vote on these recommendations in December.

While the need for deficit reduction is clear, complications arise when deciding where cuts should be made. In this task, the super committee is instructed to examine all facets of the federal budget, leaving all government expenditures open to reduction, including changes to entitlement spending and reforms to the tax code. 

What if the Super Committee doesn’t meet their deadline or Congress doesn’t enact the recommendations?

If reduction measures totaling at least $1.2 trillion are not enacted by January 2012, automatic cuts will be triggered across all government spending for the following nine years, until 2021, which is known as sequestration.  

How is foreign assistance affected through the Super Committee’s actions?

Poverty-focused development assistance—which makes up less than one percent of the federal budget—is allocated through the International Affairs account. Making cuts to this foreign assistance will not make a difference in balancing the federal budget. It would be a devastating blow to millions of the poorest and most vulnerable people around the world who benefit from this aid. 

How might Super Committee recommendations relate to the International Affairs account?

The Super Committee has the authority to explore any and all methods of reducing the deficit, including spending cuts to specific government accounts. This means that they could target international affairs.  They could set allocations for following years that are significantly lower than current and past appropriations for foreign assistance. This is especially important because appropriations for Fiscal Year 2012 (FY12) are still being finalized, and the Super Committee might see this allocation as a precedent for larger cuts to be made in the future.

What does sequestration mean for foreign assistance?

If sequestration occurs, the International Affairs account would be re-categorized as non-security spending, and could face a 7.8 percent funding cut in 2013. This scenario would hinder the United States’ ability to provide life saving humanitarian assistance and food aid during emergencies. As many as 2.5 million people worldwide would lose access to emergency food aid.

As the Super Committee proposes cuts to government programs, the stakes for poverty-focused development assistance are high. These cuts will cost lives. Congress must remember that foreign assistance, at less than 1 percent, makes up a nominal fraction of the federal budget, but saves millions of lives worldwide.

Media Contact

M.J. Altman
Editorial Director

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