WASHINGTON – Microsoft co-founder turned billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates urged a Washington bent on slashing spending to step up aid to the world’s poorest countries.
“Looking at these issues as a businessman, I believe that investing in the world’s poorest people is the smartest way our government spends money,” Gates said at a dinner held by the US Global Leadership Coalition.
“Because of foreign assistance, five million people with AIDS are receiving life-saving treatment. Because of foreign assistance, hundreds of millions of children are sleeping under bed nets that protect them from malaria,” he said.
“The one percent we spend on aid for the poorest not only saves millions of lives, it has an enormous impact on developing economies, which means it has an impact on our economy.”
Gates was speaking at a dinner in honor of former secretary of state Madeleine Albright and former homeland security secretary Tom Ridge, both of whom also backed spending on international aid and development.
“Leadership comes with a price,” said Albright, who served under Democratic president Bill Clinton in the 1990s.
“We won’t be able to rely on other countries to fight the extraordinary dangers that most threaten us unless we help the global majority fight the chronic problems that confront them each and every day.”
Ridge, a businessman who served under Republican president George W. Bush, said aid complemented US military missions by promoting a more compassionate image of the superpower.
“As we promote America, I look at it as a product. We have something real special to sell, but the brand of that product is our value system.”
The US Congress is struggling to cut spending in order to scale back a record deficit and encourage economic recovery from a lingering crisis.
Republicans, who won sweeping victories in November 2 elections, have vowed to slash US government spending at a time when the national debt has reached 14 trillion dollars and the annual deficit is projected to run 1.5 trillion.
Earlier on Wednesday Republican House of Representatives Majority Leader Eric Cantor suggested cutting millions of dollars in UN funds and some overseas aid to US creditors.