Congress, fight global poverty by modernizing our private-sector tools

Congress, fight global poverty by modernizing our private-sector tools
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When my son was born with a rare heart condition and underwent open-heart surgery at 10 weeks old, my family was terrified. But we were blessed to live right next to one of the largest children’s hospitals in Wisconsin, where my son received the professional care that saved his life. Sadly, there are too many places in the world, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, where people do not have access to basic medicine, let alone a quality hospital.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, especially after President TrumpDonald John TrumpNew EPA rule would expand Trump officials' powers to reject FOIA requests Democratic senator introduces bill to ban gun silencers Democrats: Ex-Commerce aide said Ross asked him to examine adding census citizenship question MORE introduced his 2019 budget proposal, which includes a roughly 30 percent cut to the international affairs budget. If enacted, these cuts would have a disastrous impact on thousands of children in developing countries. Lawmakers, including my Congressman, Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPaul Ryan praises Trump: 'He's not taking any crap' The Hill's Morning Report - Crunch time arrives for 2020 Dems with debates on deck Ocasio-Cortez calls out Steve King, Liz Cheney amid controversy over concentration camp remarks MORE (R-Wis.), would be wise to take notice and action to make sure these cuts don’t become real.

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Buried within the president’s budget proposal is a $424 million cut (31 percent) to the Global Fund, a vital organization that actively fights epidemics like AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. It’s easy to get lost in the numbers, but behind these cuts are real people, many of whom are children, whose lives will be put in jeopardy. These cuts would mean 131,000 fewer women would be placed on treatment to prevent the passing of HIV to their babies, 454,000 fewer people would be put on antiretroviral therapy, and 650,000 fewer people would receive tuberculosis treatment and care — in just one year.

When the United States chooses to lead, we have the ability to do tremendous good. Before the United States joined the global fight against HIV/AIDS, 5,000 people were dying from the disease every day and another 7,000 were being infected. Our leadership is both irreplaceable and catalytic. Since joining the HIV/AIDS fight, over 13 million lives have been saved and AIDS-related deaths have been cut in half since their peak. Unfortunately, the president’s budget would cut PEPFAR by nearly 11 percent. Americans are proud of the fact that we have been a stalwart and essential leader in the global AIDS response. This budget calls that leadership into question at a time when we should be doing more to combat HIV/AIDS and other preventable diseases, not less.

New data released just last week by a leading group of humanitarian, development and global health organizations further underscores just how devastating the president’s budget would be for millions of people in the poorest countries. Roughly 13 million children would be cut off from nutrition programs, leaving them vulnerable to stunting, a condition that could affect them for the rest of their lives. And cuts to water and sanitation programs could result in more than 2 million people having access to safe and sustainable water sources as well as sanitation services that prevent the onset and spread of disease.

American generosity saves lives, spurs economic growth, creates jobs, makes us safer and lifts millions out of poverty. But it isn’t the only tool in America’s development toolbox. The investment of America’s private sector in the economic growth of developing countries has the potential to be a transformative force for good, however it is currently massively under-utilized.

Last month, I was on Capitol Hill for the introduction of a bipartisan, bicameral bill called The Better Utilization of Investments Leading to Development (BUILD) Act. The innovative bill, which is being championed by Sens. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerPress: How 'Nervous Nancy' trumped Trump Amash gets standing ovation at first town hall after calling for Trump's impeachment Jeff Daniels blasts 'cowardice' of Senate Republicans against Trump MORE (R-Tenn.) and Chris CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsDemocrats want White House hopefuls to cool it on Biden attacks Senators revive effort to create McCain human rights commission Senate Dem to reintroduce bill with new name after 'My Little Pony' confusion MORE (D-Del.) and Reps. Ted YohoTheodore (Ted) Scott YohoOvernight Defense: Shanahan exit shocks Washington | Pentagon left rudderless | Lawmakers want answers on Mideast troop deployment | Senate could vote on Saudi arms deal this week | Pompeo says Trump doesn't want war with Iran Secrecy behind Saudi nuclear talks infuriates Congress Congress can finally ensure horses are not tortured for ribbons and prizes MORE (R-Fla.) and Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithGOP moves to block provision banning use of Defense funds for border wall Texas Republican: Migrant conditions in his state the 'worst' he's seen Trump: Border deal with Democrats 'probably won't happen' MORE (D-Wash.), seeks to leverage new private-sector capital to build infrastructure, create first-time access to electricity, start businesses, create jobs, and ultimately reduce the need for American foreign aid to developing countries. It will give the U.S. government new tools for partnering with entrepreneurs and leveraging non-taxpayer dollars, while making it easier for American businesses to operate in emerging markets.

This good proposal is not a replacement for foreign aid, but rather a valuable complement to the important, life-saving work that American aid already does. It’s the type of proposal that all of our nation’s lawmakers, including Speaker Paul Ryan, should get behind.

As a father, I want every child to have the same opportunities as my children, whether they are born in Wisconsin or sub-Saharan Africa. While there is no single piece of legislation that will make this dream a reality, by fully funding the international affairs budget and by modernizing America’s private-sector engagement tools in developing countries, our nation’s lawmakers have the power to move us one giant step closer.

Scott Petersen is a member of The ONE Campaign, a policy and advocacy organization of more than 9 million people taking action to end extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa.