Ideas to Action:

Independent research for global prosperity

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This is a joint post with Erin Collinson.

Ok, ok, that was maybe a little misleading. Apologies. We don’t actually have any direct evidence that folks at The Daily Show are reading CGD’s research.

However, The Daily Show’s Jessica Williams did a brilliant send-up last night of the US maritime industry’s opposition to a key reform of the US food aid program:  allowing  USAID the flexibility to buy food locally and regionally as well as to provide people with cash or vouchers to buy it themselves, rather than forcing the slow and expensive shipping of food on US flagged ships.

Is it possible that Daily Show writers were reading Kim Elliott and Will McKitterick’s brief on Food Aid for the 21st Century: Saving More Money, Time, and Lives? The brief estimates that the food aid reforms proposed in President Obama’s FY14 budget would help feed between 4 and 10 million more people for the same amount of money.

Because of strong opposition from shippers and some in the agricultural industry, the proposed food aid reform (even the “half loaf” in the FY14 budget request) appeared DOA.

Still, many of us here at CGD were delighted when House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) and Representative Karen Bass (D-CA) introduced a food aid reform bill in May. And while an amendment to the House farm bill that included similar reforms failed, the vote proved closer than many observers had anticipated (and received more yays than the full farm bill itself). In addition to saving lives, these proposed reforms have the potential to save real money. In fact, the Royce-Bass bill could save $500 million over ten years—an appealing prospect in the current budget climate—and savings that could be used to feed even more people.

Given these arguments and the surprise interest from The Daily Show, is it possible food aid reform could be enacted this year? Pretty unlikely. As you’ve no doubt heard, Congress is scheduled to run up against number of critical deadlines in the coming weeks. Pressure is mounting to pass a spending bill before the end of the fiscal year on September 30th. Key farm programs are set to expire the same day. And Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has called on Congress to raise the federal debt limit by October 17th to avoid a government default.

But we’re not ready to give up  hope just yet—and next year’s reform prospects just got a whole lot brighter thanks to Jessica Williams. Perhaps The Daily Show (along with greater engagement from the Administration and the possibility of a big reform bill out of the Senate) will move Congress to action. We’ve seen it before.

And Daily Show writers, if you do read CGD, we have a great idea for a video on CODAid