Advocates, Officials Call For Preservation Of Foreign Aid Budget

Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, “joined a chorus of celebrities, activists and officials Wednesday” calling for Congress “not to cut foreign aid to try to shrink the U.S. deficit,” Agence France-Presse reports.

“Many of the programs that we so much count on for women and children depend on the survival of government support in this budgetary cycle,” Gates said to an audience of more than 1,100 at the CARE conference in Washington, D.C. “‘The money governments spend on foreign aid has already saved millions upon millions of lives,’ she said, adding that donor nations could help build ‘thriving communities’ and slash mother and child mortality in developing countries with a relatively small investment,” according to AFP (Zeitvogel, 3/9).

Gates asked U.S. lawmakers not to cut funding for international family planning programs, saying, “There is a lot of controversy in this country about reproductive health because of the issue of abortion, and it’s appropriate to continue that dialogue because there are strong feelings on both sides,” a second AFP article reports. She added, “But we must remember that there has long been a broad, bipartisan consensus on the need to give all women access to the contraceptives that women in rich countries use every day. It is vital to maintain that consensus,” she added (3/9).

Gates, along with former First Lady Laura Bush and Helene Gayle, president of CARE International, discussed the potential foreign aid budget cuts on PBS’ NewsHour.

“It’s really important, obviously, for people to realize that it is a very small percentage, only 1 percent of our total economy, of our total budget, and I think that’s important for people to know,” Bush said in response to a question about what people should know about the foreign aid budget. “But I also know that Americans are very generous and that many, many Americans are proud that their taxpayer dollar has saved lives in Africa through the president’s malaria initiative or through PEPFAR, the emergency relief plan for AIDS,” she added (Woodruff, 3/9).

Passage of a Republican proposed budget “would effectively end six decades of a bipartisan tradition of U.S. leadership in global development aid,” USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah said, the first AFP article reports. “This is the moment when America must decide if we’re going to engage and lead the world, actively using diplomacy, development and defense to improve human welfare and freedom,” he said. “Or we can decide to retract, leaving many of the poorest people, many of the most fragile countries without assistance and support, and leaving other global powers like China to continue to make tremendous inroads and investments in places like Africa, and promote alternative economic and political models,” according to Shah, who noted that budget constraints have already forced the agency to close programs in seven countries.

Congress still has not resolved the funding debate for the current fiscal year, and recent polls show “that a majority of Americans really don’t care for foreign aid, and hugely overestimate its share of the budget,” AFP notes. A Bloomberg News poll on Wednesday “found that nearly three-quarters of Americans think cutting foreign aid would lead to substantial savings – apparently unaware that U.S. development assistance makes up only about one percent of the U.S. budget,” the news service writes (3/9).

Congress Should Not Cut International Development Bank Funding, Treasury Secretary Says

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on Wednesday during prepared remarks to the House Appropriations subcommittee said “Republican plans to cut funding for the World Bank and other international development banks will damage U.S. interests in developing nations,” Dow Jones Newswires/Wall Street Journal reports. “America needs [multilateral development banks] to nurture the next group of emerging markets for our exports, to foster peace in countries facing conflict or on the brink of collapse, and to advance our shared values in the world,” he said (Talley/Sparshott, 3/9).

FY11 Budget Proposals Fail In Senate

Also on Wednesday, the U.S. Senate did not “advance either the House Republicans’ spending bill or an alternative proposal offered by Democrats, leaving lawmakers just nine days to work on a compromise plan or face a government shutdown,” the Los Angeles Times reports (Memoli, 3/9). “The House-passed continuing resolution that would cut $61 billion from current spending garnered 44 votes in favor, while a Democratic alternative cutting about $10 billion received 42,” according to Roll Call. Both proposals required 60 votes to pass (Dennis, 3/9).

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