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Trump proposes steep cuts to global health

U.S. President Donald Trump sent a US$4.8 trillion budget plan to Congress proposing deep cuts to international organizations and global health programs.

WASHINGTON (AN) — U.S. President Donald Trump sent a US$4.8 trillion budget plan to Congress on Monday that would make deep cuts in funding for international organizations and global health programs just as the novel coronavirus spreads worldwide.

The Trump administration's 2021 budget request, with estimates of government income and spending for the next fiscal year and recommended funding levels for federal agencies, is the starting point for negotiations with Congress, which often ignores presidential budget requests.

Still, the Trump budget plan shows where his priorities will be if he is is re-elected later this year, and it could set the stage for future budget battles in Congress. Among the President's proposed cuts is a 53% reduction in funding for the World Health Organization, or WHO, and a 75% drop in funding for the Pan American Health Organization, which receives most of its support from Brazil.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, Democrat of New York, dismissed the proposal. “Like the President’s previous budgets, this year’s request is a waste of the paper it’s printed on," he said in a statement. "Proposing such reckless cuts to our critical foreign policy tools isn’t a serious proposal."

The United States is WHO's single-biggest contributor, providing more than US$110 million a year — more than a fifth — of all mandatory assessments, along with US$400 million a year in voluntary pledges. Reducing that will hurt WHO's efforts as it leads the world's response to the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Trump's proposed budget would cut more than US$3 billion from the U.S. government's global health programs, including direct bilateral aid — down to US$6 billion from US$9.1 billion in the 2020 fiscal year — just as fears are spreading worldwide about the new coronavirus outbreak growing into a pandemic. It also would make a US$200 million cut in U.S. contributions to the United Nations' administrative budget.

Hours after the budget request was released, State Department officials defended the proposed cuts at a special briefing for reporters in Washington. The officials argued that providing less financial support to multilateral institutions will force them to make improvements to their operations through greater accountability and efficiency, and also will add to pressure on other nations to increase contributions.

"Our budget request maintains the United States as the single largest donor in humanitarian assistance and global health, while also asking other countries and partners to do more," U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun told the briefing on the President’s 2021 budget plan.

Promoting 'American values'

Biegun said that the President's proposed budget — which would provide an additional US$15 million for the USAID Global Health Security Program to fight the coronavirus and US$25 million for an Emergency Reserve Fund that could be tapped to respond to pandemic outbreaks — will give the U.S. government more "flexibility" to respond to emerging global health threats such as the coronavirus and Ebola.

“Importantly, the budget protects against infectious disease threats at home and abroad by bolstering country capacity to prevent, detect, and respond to outbreaks and to prevent epidemics from reaching our borders,” Biegun told reporters.

The plan allots US$40.8 billion for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID. That would amount to a massive cut of US$11.7 billion, or a 22% decrease, below the amount Congress approved for the State Department and USAID in the 2020 fiscal year.

However, Mark Green, USAID's administrator, said the US$19.6 billion proposal for his agency in 2021 will "reduce the reach of conflict, prevent the spread of infectious diseases like Ebola in the [Congo] and the novel coronavirus, as well as counteract the drivers of violence, instability, and other security threats."

He said it also will provide resources for the agency to "champion American values by promoting democracy, citizen-responsive governance, and human rights" around the world, including for persecuted religious and ethnic minorities such as those from Iraq and Myanmar.

But the proposed cuts to the State Department and USAID's foreign aid budget would eliminate almost a third of the nearly US$1.5 billion that Congress approved in financial support for the United Nations and other international organizations in the 2020 fiscal year.

The President's budget proposal would cut all US$73 million in funding for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and reduce financial support to NATO to US$54 million, down from more than US$61 million. It also would cut funding to the Food and Agriculture Organization to US$56 million, down from almost US$109 million, and trim support for the World Trade Organization and the International Civil Aviation Organization.

Just one international organization, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, would receive the full amount it sought: US$290 million for the 2021 fiscal year. That proposed contribution represents what Green described as aid to "support Gavi's efforts to immunize 300 million additional children by 2025."  The international organization says it already has vaccinated 760 million children worldwide in the past two decades.