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Reneging on food aid

A MORE STARK example of skewed priorities would be hard to find: the Bush administration has admitted that budget pressures are forcing cuts in overseas food aid programs for the poor. Meanwhile, the richest 1 percent of Americans -- those earning more than $337,000 a year -- are reaping tens of billions of dollars in tax cuts.

On Wednesday The New York Times reported that the United States is curtailing all but emergency food aid and cannot honor funding commitments it had already made to non-governmental charities. Those affected include Save the Children and Catholic Relief Services, which run programs in farming self-sufficiency from Indonesia to Nicaragua.

The cuts already taken appear to be in the $100 million range -- a huge amount to people in underdeveloped countries, where many earn less than $1 a day, but dwarfed by America's budget deficit, which was $412 billion in the fiscal year that ended Sept 30.

President Bush has pledged to halve the deficit in five years. To accomplish this, discretionary spending will need to be drastically cut, since Bush will not entertain freezing or slowing the tax cuts adopted in his first term, much less raising taxes. But it is hard to believe Americans meant the trade-off for tax relief to be increasing numbers of malnourished children.

About a sixth of the population in the developing world -- 840 million people -- lacks sufficient nutrition, according to the US Agency for International Development. The United States is by far the largest provider of assistance to the world's hungry, but the need is growing. The funds are used not just to distribute food but to help projects that build community assets, such as wells and irrigation systems.

Bush political operatives try to pin the blame of deficits on government spending for welfare programs or the war in Iraq. While these do take up a large portion of federal spending, the Office of Management and Budget confirms that the Bush tax cuts equal 57 percent of all new spending since the administration took office in 2001, including spending on Iraq.

The dollars lost to the tax cuts are mind-numbing: $266 billion in 2004; $80 billion to the top 1 percent alone. Tax revenues have been cut repeatedly: on regular income, on dividends, on corporate profits, and on inheritances. Child-care credits and other measures have balanced out some of the benefits, but the vast majority of the reductions have accrued to the wealthy. Tax revenues now make up 16 percent of gross domestic product, the smallest portion since 1959.

Earlier this year, US AID celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Food for Peace program. In his remarks, Bush said of the millions suffering: "America has a special calling to come to their aid." The president has a strange way of answering that call. 

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