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Originally published December 13, 2012 at 4:03 PM | Page modified December 13, 2012 at 4:03 PM

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Editorial: In ‘fiscal cliff’ talks, cutting foreign aid should be a last option

Foreign assistance is a tiny but important piece of the federal budget. Congress should consider recent advances linked to Seattle’s global-health sector — and consider foreign-aid cuts as a last resort.

Seattle Times Editorial

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SINCE World War II, Americans have supported federal efforts to address global poverty and human suffering from political and natural disasters.

As Congress contemplates ways to cut spending, there are no sacred cows. But foreign aid should be one of the last items considered for the chopping block.

Foreign aid is a noble endeavor that improves the United States’ moral standing in the world. Sharing brainpower and partnering with other countries leads to stable governments and healthy populations. This serves America’s long-term security interests.

The cost to taxpayers? About $32 billion in 2011. That’s about 1 percent of the entire federal budget.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., is the incoming chair of the Senate Budget Committee. She has the power to pull some purse strings.

Advocates are right to hope she understands the possible effects of foreign-aid reductions to Seattle, an innovation hub in global health and development.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the University of Washington are leading efforts to find sustainable solutions to alleviate rampant poverty and health disparities. Northwest nonprofits such as PATH, World Vision and Mercy Corps rely heavily on federal funds to implement programs on the ground.

Their work so far has yielded lifesaving results. Over the past decade, 4 million people have been treated for HIV; 50 million for malaria. Millions more have received family-planning help to prevent unintended pregnancies. Baby deliveries are safer, too.

But health advocates describe these advancements as extremely “fragile.”

Foreign aid must contend with a growing chorus that argues for more spending on the domestic front. Americans are struggling, too.

But the return on our foreign-aid investment is enormous. Good health pares poverty. Goodwill preserves peace. When the U.S. doesn’t have to worry about instability elsewhere in the world, it can better focus on itself and prosper.

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