From the Hill: Compassionate Conservatism at Its Best by Rick Santorum

The Debt Relief Enhancement Act is victory for President George W. Bush’s compassionate conservative agenda.

Although debt relief has been primarily embraced by Democrats, more and more conservatives are seeing its value. Third World countries that carry large amounts of debt are unable to fight poverty and build an infrastructure for a healthy and prosperous nation. As a result, these poverty-stricken countries cannot prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, which has killed millions of people in Africa. By lifting the enormous burden of debt and providing parameters for development, we can give Third World nations the tools and encouragement they need to provide better health care, education, and economic opportunity for their citizens.

Debt relief in the Third World has become increasingly popular. Two years ago, the Jubilee 2000 campaign for debt relief gained international attention with the help of Bono, lead singer of the rock band U2, and religious leaders like Pope John Paul II and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Both lay and religious leaders continue to demand 100 percent debt cancellation and an end to the harmful conditions caused by heavy debt. The pope contends that globalization is linked with solidarity and that special aid must be given to countries unable to enter the market on their own strength: “This is something owed to them in justice. In a true ‘family of nations’ no one can be excluded; on the contrary, it is the weakest, the most fragile which must be supported, so that they too can develop their full potential.”

The Debt Relief Enhancement Act, which I introduced in the Senate with Senator Joseph Biden (D-Del.) in April 2002, seeks to provide additional debt relief for the world’s poorest nations. The act will substantially increase resources available for human development and poverty reduction in heavily indebted poor countries (HIPCs). This new legislation also recognizes the importance of Third World debt relief as a means of combating global poverty. It can help bolster the stability of faltering governments and economies.

 

The Debt Relief Enhancement Act builds on the existing and improved HIPC Initiative established in 1999 by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. The legislation will lower debt so that no qualified HIPC pays more than 10 percent of its budget on debt service annually. Currently, the 26 HIPCs pay 11.5 percent of their budget on debt service. The act will also lower the limit to 5 percent for countries that have a public health crisis, such as an epidemic of HIV/AIDS. The net impact of this proposal will be to cut an additional $1 billion in both bilateral and multilateral debt service annually—almost double the amount of debt service relief achieved under the current HIPC Initiative.

In order to be eligible for cancellation of debt under this proposal, a country must ensure that the financial benefits will be applied to programs focusing on HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention, nutrition, and education. Countries that fail to cooperate in international narcotics control, consistently violate internationally recognized human rights, or have repeatedly provided support for acts of terrorism are ineligible for cancellation of debt under the act.

Thus far, debt relief has had a positive impact on many HIPCs. In Tanzania, after just three months of debt relief efforts and an end to the practice of charging fees for education, more than one million students have enrolled in elementary and secondary schools. In Uganda, elementary school enrollment more than doubled from 40 percent to 90 percent when debt relief funds were directed toward education. In Honduras, public education has now been extended from the sixth grade to the ninth grade. And Mozambique has vaccinated 500,000 children against deadly but preventable diseases.

On a larger scale, helping underprivileged nations improves our own national security. By providing a helping hand, the United States will undercut the climate of anti-Americanism that exists in many Third World countries, which helps us to fight the war on terrorism more effectively. Countries plagued with economic misery are prime targets for infiltration by terrorist groups.

Debt relief has become central in the efforts to reduce poverty, fight HIV/AIDS, and improve relations with Third World countries. Religious leaders, the Bush administration, and many in Congress all agree that debt relief must be a priority if we care about helping the poorest parts of the world. America has a duty to extend its generosity to nations overloaded with debt and wracked by disease. As Alexis de Tocqueville warned, “America is great because she is good, but if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.” It’s important to remember that when we contemplate the plight of the Third World.

Sen. Rick Santorum

By

Former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania was a candidate for the Republican nomination for President in 2012. He is currently working in Dallas as head of the Christian movie company, EchoLight Studios.

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