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March 2, 2011 at 3:53 PM

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World Vision pleads against gutting foreign aid budget

Posted by Kyung M. Song

WASHINGTON -- With foreign aid poised beneath a congressional budget ax -- and many Americans mistaking it as a big-ticket spending -- World Vision on Wednesday rallied its donors to help avert "a devastating threat" to international humanitarian programs.

Rich Stearns, president of the Federal Way Christian charity group, sent what he called a rare email request to donors alerting them to deep cuts in foreign aid passed by House Republicans. The spending measure, which would reduce 2011 federal spending by $61 billion over current levels, would hit foreign aid budgets particularly hard.

For instance, Stearns said, the House budget would gut global AIDS, malaria and hunger programs by 41 percent while slashing funds for humanitarian emergencies by 67 percent.

Foreign aid spending makes up about half of 1 percent of federal spending, which in 2012 is expected to total $3.7 trillion. But surveys show that Americans vastly overestimate the size of foreign aid. According to a World Public Opinion poll last November, Americans think that foreign aid accounts for an average of 27 percent of the federal budget.

Not surprisingly, a January Gallup Poll found that foreign aid tops the list of spending cuts favored by Americans, with 59 percent supporting it and 37 percent opposed (they were most protective of spending on education and Social Security).

In fact, nearly 60 percent of the federal budget is consumed by mandatory programs, including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

On Wednesday, the Senate overwhelmingly passed a two-week extension of the budget that would fund the government until March 18 (Sen. Patty Murray was one of nine senators to oppose it, calling it a "gimmick" that fails to meaningfully address the deficit) .

The Senate action, which would cut federal spending by $4 billion, bypassed the steeper cuts endorsed earlier by the House. But the two chambers must work out a spending plan for the rest of this fiscal year -- including just what to spend on foreign aid.

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