The World’s Needy, Not America’s Problem

A new poll shows the majority of Americans want to maintain or increase government funding for every program except foreign aid.

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Aron Maasho/REUTERS

Former U.S. President George W. Bush carries an Ethiopian child whose mother is receiving HIV treatment through programs funded by the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

Wherefore American altruism? The Pew Research Center has released a poll showing that the majority of the American public wants either to maintain or increase spending for a host of government initiatives: the State Department, unemployment aid, military defense, aid to needy Americans, health care, environmental protection, energy, scientific research, agriculture, anti-terrorism defense, roads and infrastructure, Medicare, combating crime, food and drug inspection, natural disaster relief, education, Social Security and veterans’ benefits. The only one that did not make the cut? “Aid to the world’s needy.”

The impacts of this public opinion can be seen in the current public policy debate, as some foreign aide programs feel the pinch. President George W. Bush’s greatest legacy, some have said, was his President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, which is projected to treat 6 million people in over 70 countries from 2003 to the end of this year.  In 2012, PEPFAR treated nearly 750,000 women who tested positive for HIV, allowing approximately 230,000 infants to be born HIV-free. For 2013, President Obama requested $6.4 billion for Tuberculous and HIV/AIDS programs, including PEPFAR, totaling .17% of the budget. Federal aid overall, including military assistance, comprises of roughly 1%. Medicare, Social Security, and Defense combined make up over 60% of the budget.

Officially the Obama Administration still supports programs like PEPFAR. During his State of the Union Address, Obama himself said that an AIDS-free generation is “within our reach.” Yet the White House budget for fiscal year 2013 cuts over a billion dollars for HIV/AIDS programs, about 24 percent of its 2012 funding.  Archbishop Desmond Tutu, in a recent op-ed to USA Today called on the President to match his words to actions:

Cuts to PEPFAR make no sense at this time of so much promise. We cannot cede ground and risk losing the progress we have made…Now is not the time to pull back. We are in the endgame of AIDS and Obama can help the world triumph. By adding the end of AIDS to his legacy, President Obama will be remembered fondly by all future generations, grateful that he helped spare them from unnecessary suffering and needless death.