Foreign aid a non-partisan issue? 
Senator Frist and Governor Richardson find much to agree on in aid policy

By Anna Jensen-Clem

Former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) and Former Governor Bill Richardson (D-NM) spoke together last Friday from Columbus, Ohio about the role of U.S. foreign aid. The discussion, convened by the USGLC and moderated by Ohio Public Radio and Television Bureau Chief Karen Kasler, focused specifically on US global engagement in the context of Ohio; that is, what role will Ohio play in global development in the coming years, and how will the state negotiate changing markets, job requirements, and an influx of new consumers?

Both men were optimistic about Ohio’s and the U.S.’s ability to adapt to changing marketplaces, and both emphasized that humanitarian aid, just 1% of the US budget, is key to ensuring job growth and economic stability. Richardson, a former ambassador to the United Nations and former Governor of New Mexico, pointed to his policies in that state during his tenure as governor and emphasized cross-border economic growth and trade. An international border, he said, is an opportunity for growth rather than hostility, and engagements abroad facilitate targeted job creation in the United States.  Governor Richardson identified Ohio as a key state in the global economy, noting the state’s strategic placement geographically as well as its expanding high-tech, agricultural and manufacturing sectors; one-quarter of its workers depend on exports for their income. He also emphasized the need for bipartisan consensus in order to create jobs and facilitate free trade agreements.

Senator Frist, a cardiothoracic surgeon who specializes in heart and lung transplants and served two terms in the Senate (as Majority Leader from 2003-2007), has spent much of his time on medical mission trips to Africa. He emphasized the importance of humanitarian aid in U.S. foreign policy. He encouraged the audience to see U.S. policies as “replacing desperation and disease and poverty with health and hope and opportunity,” and argued that using humanitarian aid to stabilize tenuous regions would bring productivity and opportunities across the globe. Aid, in Senator Frist’s view, ought to be a non-partisan issue because it serves to raise struggling populations from poverty and help them contribute to the global economy. Frist frequently acknowledged the U.S.’s responsibility to provide developmental aid in the context of our common humanity. He appealed for strategic use of aid to create jobs, work to treat and cure disease, and open markets to new consumers.

When asked what the United States must to do remain competitive in the global economy, both men argued for more openness, more trade and a continued spreading of American values abroad. Governor Richardson pointed to China, India, Brazil, Nigeria, Turkey and South Africa as examples of countries whose rapid growth presents a re-ordering of the international global economy. All of these countries, he said, look to American leadership in the coming years.  Senator Frist emphasized the importance of American values abroad, and argued that the best use of aid is to bring more consumers to the table so that they can participate in the global economy. Both men also mentioned the importance of “smart power” over military strength; ideally, U.S. foreign aid would function to bring more consumers to the U.S. market and simultaneously foster growth in global health and development. Senator Frist and Governor Richardson were emphatically positive about the future of US foreign aid, and both encouraged the audience to keep up with global health and business developments over the next few months.