Two Bills on the Hill. One mission

March 11, 2010

Bill Clinton and Bill Gates banded together on one mission Wednesday: deliver a message to Capitol Hill that increasing funding for the U.S. Global Health Initiative would be good foreign policy and the right thing to do.

SENATE/The program administered by the State Department works to improve healthcare in poor nations, with a particular focus on women and children. The Obama administration proposes to invest $63 billion in the program over six years. The State Department’s budget request for FY2011 includes $8.5 billion for GHI.

The former president and the founder of Microsoft have more in common than just their first names — they both head foundations that focus on global health. The two Bills testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that while they were aware of the federal budget challenge, adding to the Global Health Initiative now would pay off in the long run.

“This is an important part of our foreign policy. It makes a world with more friends, and fewer enemies,” Clinton said. “If people think you care whether their children live or die, you don’t have to send our young people off to war as often.”

Gates implored lawmakers to do a better job of telling Americans about how well U.S. investments in global health are working. He cited success in nearly eradicating polio, reducing deaths from malaria, and providing 4 million people with AIDS treatment who would have died years ago. “These investments are the most effective we can make for improving and saving lives.” SENATE/

The senior Republican on the panel, Senator Richard Lugar, wanted to know about possible foreign policy implications in the work of their foundations, and asked whether they consult with the State Department about their objectives.

“I think I can say without fear of contradiction that no NGO (non-governmental organization) leader in American history has ever consulted as much as I have with the secretary of state,” Clinton responded.

That got a laugh.

Not to be outdone, Gates raised his personal situation. “My personal experience is that if you’re rich enough, there will be some resentment no matter what.”

That got a laugh too. “And the U.S. is the richest country in the world,” Gates continued.

Photo credit: Reuters/Larry Downing (Clinton and Gates testify before Senate Foreign Relations Committee)

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