At least 70,000 children around the world could die if funding for global health programs is cut under the Republican budget proposal, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah warned Congress Thursday.
"What I worry about is that with the H.R. 1 budget [the proposed spending bill], if that becomes a baseline reality for fiscal year '12, that would be very problematic for some of our most important programs," Administrator Shah testified before the House Appropriations State and Foreign Operations subcommittee.
"We estimate, and I believe these are very conservative estimates, that H.R. 1 would lead to 70,000 kids dying," he said.
Shah said that 30,000 of those deaths would come if malaria control programs have to be scaled back, 24,000 would die from lack of support for immunizations, and another 16,000 would die at birth.
Shah's comments come as the Obama administration is fighting Congressional Republicans over how to fund the government this year. The impasse has led to the threat of a government shutdown.
Republicans have proposed significant cuts to the international affairs budget, 19 percent below 2010 enacted base levels, as part of an effort to reduce deficit spending.
"I believe there are ways to find the efficiencies we're all seeking, through being more businesslike in how we do our work, reining in contract partners and doing better program oversight. There's a way to do this that does not have to cost lives," Shah testified.
In her testimony before Congress last month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the cuts, which would also hamper expanded efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, "would be devastating for our national security."
According to the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, which lobbies to increase funding for international affairs, the Republican budget proposal would cut funding for global health programs by 11 percent, including a reduction in money for the Global fund for HIV/AIDS by 43 percent. The group says that would mean 5 million children would not receive malaria treatments and about 43,000 would not receive tuberculosis treatments.
The proposed budget would also decrease food aid programs by 30 percent and slash U.S. funding for disaster relief by 41 percent.
Shah said the disaster relief cut "would be, really, the most dramatic stepping back away from our humanitarian responsibilities around the world in decades. We are seeing an increase in the number of disasters, and we're seeing an increase in the need for American leadership, often to bring in other donors to do the cost sharing and burden sharing required to successfully see through a disaster response and a transition."
Shah pointed to Darfur, where 1.6 million people receive food and water through U.S. funding. The proposed cuts would mean half of those people, 800,000, would no longer receive that aid.
Lawmakers were split on the matter. Rep Kay Granger, the Republican chair of the subcommittee from Texas, said the Obama administration's budget request for 2012 was "unrealistic in today's budget environment."
Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the ranking member, said the cuts "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."
Last month Secretary Clinton warned against cutting international assistance funding and withdrawing from the world.
"There have always been moments of temptation in our country to resist obligations beyond our borders. But each time we have shrunk from global leadership, events have summoned us back, often cruelly, to reality. We saved money in the short term when we walked away from Afghanistan after the Cold War. But those savings came at an unspeakable cost – one we are still paying, ten years later, in money and lives," she told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on March 1.