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November 13, 2011 8:00 AM Perry, Romney target foreign aid

By Steve Benen

When it comes to spending-cut vows, it’s often tough for Republicans to get specific, since most government investments tend to be pretty popular. So, GOP candidates tend to take the easy way out: they talk about cutting foreign aid. It’s misguided, but it’s a crowd pleaser.

With that in mind, consider Rick Perry’s comments during last night’s debate, offered in the context of a discussion about the relationship between the United States and Pakistan:

“Listen, I think we’re havin’ an interesting conversation here, but the deeper one that the speaker makes a reference to is the whole issue of foreign aid…. The foreign aid budget in my administration for every country is gonna start at zero dollars. Zero dollars. And then we’ll have a conversation. Then we’ll have a conversation in this country about whether or not a penny of our taxpayer dollar needs to go into those countries…. It’s time for us as a country to say no to foreign aid to countries that don’t support the United States of America.”

Soon after, when the topic at hand was still Pakistan, Mitt Romney endorsed the same line.

“[O]ne of the things we have to do with our foreign aid commitments, the ongoing foreign aid commitments, I agree with Governor Perry. You start everything at zero.”

And while conservative audiences probably found this message appealing, there’s a problem: our foreign-aid investments include support for Israel, which relies heavily on U.S. aid. The approach backed by Romney and Perry would, in effect, scrap our financial commitments to a key ally in the Middle East — a commitment most Americans expect presidents to keep.

In fact, relying on a question via Twitter during the debate, Perry was asked if his position includes Israel. The governor replied, “[A]bsolutely. Every country would start at zero. Obviously, Israel is a special ally. And my bet is that we would be funding them — at some substantial level. But it makes sense for everyone to come in at zero and make your case.”

Don’t be surprised if this issue comes up again next year if Romney (or Perry for the matter) is the Republican nominee. The Obama campaign would welcome the opportunity to tell Jewish voters, “Romney has vowed to eliminate all aid to Israel, and force our Israeli allies to sing for their supper,” and the message will have the added benefit of being true.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • c u n d gulag on November 13, 2011 8:11 AM:

    GOP POV:

    This is smart!

    Just think of how many umpety hundred of trillions of dollars a year we spend on foreign aid.

    Why, I bet something like 80% of our tax dollars from those hard working 53% goes out to help them furriners!

    The stupid just keeps metastasizing.

  • Danp on November 13, 2011 8:17 AM:

    This is absolute nonsense. What these guys are really saying is we need to think about this carefully, but I haven't gotten around to it yet. Consider Pakistan. The reason we give them so much aid is because they let us fight al Qaeda and the Taliban from there, as well as use their airspace to get to Afghanistan. But these jokers aren't going to consider the complexity of the issue. They are merely promising to give it some thought at a later date. What intellectual cowards!!!

  • Danp on November 13, 2011 8:20 AM:

    Let me add that no Democrat could ever get elected by taking such a lazy position.

  • internet tough guy on November 13, 2011 8:26 AM:

    Obama should send Rick and Mittens a thank you note for giving him Florida.

  • hells littlest angel on November 13, 2011 8:26 AM:

    I think Romney and Perry were just pandering to their immediate audience, the right-wing crackers in the seats in the auditorium. Supporting Israel isn't too important to South Carolina Republicans, with the exception of those who eager to usher in the end times.

  • RickW on November 13, 2011 8:31 AM:

    Romney will just flip flop and deny that's what he meant. Something along the lines of "zero has a unique meaning with our special partner, Israel."

  • John B. on November 13, 2011 8:33 AM:

    I understand what you're getting at here, Steve: Romney and Perry seem to have stepped in it, politically speaking. But I am loath to say that, sooner or later, we do indeed need to have something of a cost-benefit analysis of the aid we send to Israel. I strongly suspect that our current administration has also had conversations along these lines. I mean, we've sold the Israelis bunker-busting bombs, something even Bush refused to do! We rescued members of their embassy in Cairo! Yet any time the White House or State Department criticizes Israel when it makes choices that aren't conducive to the U.S.'s long-term goal of a two-state solution, Obama gets called a Muslim-lover in both Israel and this country, even, tacitly, by some of his own political allies. When Israel comes calling, we're the girl who can't say No--or, more accurately, given Obama's overheard remarks to Sarkozy the other day, isn't allowed to.

    It's increasingly clear that the two-state solution is to the long-term benefit (read: survival) of Israel. Geography and demographics make it thus. Does it really make sense to be supportive of a nation whose behavior is so obviously self-destructive?

  • jpd on November 13, 2011 9:15 AM:

    yes i would like to see a poll about support for isreal.
    i suspect it is not 'most americans'

  • Th on November 13, 2011 9:28 AM:

    "the message will have the added benefit of being true."

    Not really. Perry and Romney (and me) are old enough to remember the "Zero Based Budgeting" championed by Jimmy Carter among others. I doubt many of the debate listeners understood where they were coming from, but governors are very familiar with the concept.

  • chi res on November 13, 2011 9:45 AM:

    That's a hell of a story! So the headline on the WashPost this morning MUST have been:

    ROMNEY, PERRY WILL CUT ISRAEL AID TO ZERO

    No?

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  • emjayay on November 13, 2011 10:50 AM:

    What John B said. Israel does not need our aid (which we can't afford anyway), and particularly given their behavior, shouldn't get any.

    Obviously, it's only the wierd combination of Jewish voters, mostly Democrats, and Israel loving Christianists who worship the Holy Land and also worship tough guy states willing to oppress anyone else and are ready to call Obama a Muslim lover if not Muslim himself that keep Israel aid at a ridiculous level.

    Not that Perry is capable of having any sort of zero based rational discussion about any of that.

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  • martin on November 13, 2011 11:05 AM:

    Hmmm. So when and how are these "conversations" going to take place. And with whom? Will the ambassadors be lining up at the White House, or, more likely, will their lobbyist be lining up in Congress? Although it sounds like a great pay for play scheme, I don't think the American people will have much of a voice in this.

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  • Grumpy on November 13, 2011 11:49 AM:

    Bear in mind that "start at zero" is not the same as "eliminate." If anything, it lets candidates sound like steely-eyed budget cutters and then, once in office (shudder), announce that all that crazy foreign aid is justified after all.

  • John T. on November 13, 2011 1:17 PM:

    Steve must have missed it but Romney's people clarified right after the debate that he didn't mean Israel:

    http://www.politico.com/blogs/bensmith/1111/Foreign_aid_to_zero.html?showall

    "Governor Romney was talking about Pakistan when he said the foreign aid each year should start at zero," Romney spokesman Ryan Williams tells me, adding that Romney does not think aid to Israel should start at zero."

  • Texas Aggie on November 13, 2011 4:04 PM:

    The next time the subject of foreign aid comes up, I hope the moderator then asks how much that would save and how many MIC jobs it would eliminate. Roughly half the foreign aid is for military equipment bought in the US. There is a significant portion of the rest that ends up in American pockets as well.

  • montag on November 13, 2011 6:22 PM:

    Resetting to zero and negotiating from there might be one way to rein in Bugsy Netanyahu before he does something crazy.

  • Jenny on November 13, 2011 7:15 PM:

    ROMNEY, PERRY WILL ZERO OUT ISRAEL!

  • Jenny on November 13, 2011 7:16 PM:

    ROMNEY, PERRY WILL ZERO OUT ISRAEL!

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