Perry, Romney target foreign aid

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.