For nearly 60 years U.S. international food aid efforts – also known as the Food for Peace Program – have been a shining example of America at its best; a nation of plenty lending a helping hand to those in desperate need around the globe.
This program does more than just help those less fortunate abroad. Food Aid also keeps our maritime sector strong by hiring U.S. crews to staff our merchant marine to transport food from American farmers, which also benefits the U.S. agriculture industry. This is the same maritime sector that is relied upon by our military for support in times of war and international crisis.
Food Aid is a strong reminder that it is possible to do well while doing good.
That is why it made heads turn earlier this week when the House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing geared toward gutting this program, with Chairman Ed Royce even inexplicably claiming that “the Pentagon has determined that an easing of cargo preference requirements would have no tangible effect upon U.S. maritime security.” The rhetoric coming from some Democrats at the hearing wasn’t any better.
Really? The Pentagon has determined this?
Is this the same Pentagon that employed General Duncan McNabb (ret.) as Commander of the United States Transportation Command? The same General who said that laws aiming to ensure that U.S. humanitarian aid travels on board U.S ships have helped in, “ensuring the continued viability of both the U.S.-flag fleet and the pool of citizen mariners who man these vessels.”
Let’s not just take Gen. McNabb’s word for it, let’s ask Navy League President Dale Lumme, who told the Office of Management and Budget earlier this year that it is imperative the program continues to receive steady funding: “These food aid cargo programs are necessary to maintain the commercial U.S. Merchant Marine and play an important role in American diplomacy. Cancelling this vital program will significantly undermine the U.S.-flag Merchant Marine and have devastating impacts to our national security.”
Let me say that again — changing this program would have “devastating impacts” on our national security. Unfortunately for our Merchant Marine and our national security, Chairman Royce’s distorted view would have serious implications, as he is advancing a falsely named “reform” bill that would both eliminate cargo preference laws and change the program so it sends money, not food, overseas. This would hurt our maritime and agriculture industries, and be unfair to U.S. taxpayers who would lose the accountability and transparency that the program has long had.
Fortunately, the Farm Bill that recently passed the Senate had neither of these ill-conceived changes. It goes without saying that we believe a House version of the bill must follow suit.
The false characterization of the U.S. merchant marine’s importance to our military and national security displayed at the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing reminds me of former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s frequent adage that, “everyone is entitled to his own opinions, but not his own facts.”
There will be differences of opinions in the debate over U.S. humanitarian aid, but let’s all try to keep the facts straight.