Two of the world’s best-known philanthropists — Bill Clinton and Bill Gates — came to Capitol Hill today to seek more government support for global-health efforts despite a growing federal budget crunch.
Appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the former president and the Microsoft co-founder said the world is making big strides in eliminating malaria, treating HIV/AIDS, and preventing childhood deaths. To continue this success, they urged the panel to back President Obama’s global-health plan.
(Other charity officials have been more mixed about the Obama administration’s proposed changes to international aid. Read The Chronicle’s article about the nonprofit world’s reaction to the president’s budget plan for 2011)
During the Congressional meeting, the two nonprofit leaders stressed the importance of building health systems in Africa, discussed how they operate in places with high levels of corruption, and even waded into some politically dicey waters — both of them called for increased support for “voluntary family planning” abroad.
The lawmakers praised the work of their foundations.
“You’ve been a unique team and had a unique impact,” said Sen. John Kerry, a Democrat from Massachusetts, who leads the committee.
Mr. Kerry and others also said they appreciate that philanthropy often benefits America’s image in places where there is a lot of skepticism of the world’s sole superpower.
Given the positive influence nonprofit work can have aboard, Sen. Richard Lugar, the top Republican on the panel, asked how much the William J. Clinton Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation consult with the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
The Indiana lawmaker asked: How much should they and other so-called nongovernmental organizations consider the “foreign-policy implications” of their efforts?
“No NGO leader in America’s history has consulted as much with the secretary of state,” Mr. Clinton quipped.
His wife, of course, is America’s top diplomat.
On a more serious note, Mr. Clinton said his foundation does not work in any country where he thinks it would conflict with America’s goals. Though his humanitarian work is not aimed at getting foreigners to like the country, he said it does have that effect.
“We don’t want to politicize it, but we want to be reinforcing what is good about America,” he said.
Mr. Gates largely agreed. “This work has a substantial impact on how this country is viewed.”
He noted, however, that no matter how much wealthy donors or the government does to assist others abroad, some people will always resent the country.
“If you’re rich enough, there will be resentment no matter what,” he said.
A transcript of statements made at the meeting is available on the Foreign Relations Committee’s Web site.