WASHINGTON – Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates praised the Republican-led Congress for rejecting the Trump administration’s proposed cuts to the State Department budget.
Gates pointed out that the foreign aid budget nearly doubled during President George W. Bush’s tenure, when Bush created the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief to extend life-saving HIV treatment to hard-hit nations in Africa.
“In terms of the present situation, it is a little concerning that for the first time the executive branch recommended pretty dramatic cuts in the State Department budget, including the foreign aid portions of that budget including things like PEPFAR,” Gates said Wednesday at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C. “Fortunately, the budget, Congress has the final word so those rather drastic cuts that were in the administration’s first budget did not become law.”
Republicans such as Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) opposed the foreign aids cuts the White House had proposed.
“We’re cutting the State Department’s budget by 29 percent and, over my dead body, that ain’t happening,” Graham said in April 2017. “To those that want to get out of the foreign assistance business, who want to take soft power off the table, Gen. Mattis said it better than I could have ever hoped to say it, when – he’s a four-star Marine general – he said if you cut the State Department’s budget, you better buy me more ammo.”
In June of last year, Corker said Trump proposed the State Department and USAID budget cuts because he was unwilling to take on entitlement reform.
“This president took an inordinate amount of cuts in this particular area to demonstrate that he was trying to address fiscal issues because, in fairness, [he’s] unwilling to address all the other issues that are driving spending so much,” Corker said.
Gates said most of his trips to Washington have involved advocating for Congress and the White House to increase budgets for public health programs involving polio, reproductive health and neglected diseases.
“Fortunately, it’s a very bipartisan group who cares about these issues and so I would say it’s to the Congress’ credit that it’s maintained the spending levels,” he said.
In “an ideal environment,” Gates said, Congress would raise the global health aid budget higher because the U.S. is still at .23 percent of GDP compared to France, Germany and England, which are spending triple that amount.
“The U.S., on a relative basis, is not nearly as generous,” he said. “On an absolute basis, our .23 percent of GDP ends up being $30 billion of $130 billion of the total foreign aid budget.”
Gates, the second-richest person in the world behind Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, also said China contributes more money than the U.S. to foreign development assistance.
“To be clear, my dialogue is to thank these people for the support, the U.S. generosity,” he said. “Hopefully, the U.S. will be more generous as China has become more generous. I hope countries will compete in generosity when it comes to the developing world.”
Gates was asked how he’s able to remain “so upbeat” about the state of the world in “this time of political division, violence and natural disasters.”
“How long people live, the reduction of disease… this period since World War II has been unbelievable – the reduction in violence, the improvement in literacy, the improvement of health is phenomenal,” he said.
“By almost any metric,” Gates argued, “the world is a far better place today – less violent deaths, less disease, more education – than ever in its history. It doesn’t mean we can feel complacent about that remaining burden.”
Gates noted that 12 million children under 5 years old died in 1990 and that figure is now less than 5 million per year.
The world, he said, is “100 times less violent than it was 1,000 years ago – that is, the percentage of deaths that are violent is down dramatically.”
Compared to the 1960s, Gates said it is now unacceptable to hit children, reflecting the “good news” that “our tolerance of violence has gone down.”
“Attitudes do shift,” he added. “They mostly shift generationally on certain issues – so our view of violence, we accept it less.”
Gates said the world is safer than it was 50 years ago.
“The really big death toll numbers are not what’s going on today. It’s no excuse for what’s going on today, but if your goal is to reduce such things, you actually have to have an objective view of what were they, where they have gone down more than other places and what do you have to do to apply those practices?” he said. “So if someone has a very negative view of the world, that’s simply not an objective thing.”