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Curious About U.S. Aid To Foreign Countries

By Joe Shortsleeve, WBZ-TV
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WBZ-TV's Joe Shortsleeve Joe Shortsleeve
Joe Shortsleeve is chief correspondent for WBZ-TV News weekdays a...
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BOSTON (CBS) – These are troubling times abroad. But these are also troubling times on the home front.

Craig from Fall River Declared his Curiosity, asking:

“Why is it that our government continues to give billions of our tax dollars to dictators and not to the millions of Americans who are struggling?”

Bob from Leominster added,

“I never hear any of our leaders talk about cutting foreign aid. Most of it goes to countries that hate us.”

Wilson’s Diner in Waltham is about 5,400 miles from Tahrir Square in Cairo, but diners watched the unrest there closely. Many wondered what was going on when they heard that our government supported a dictator like Hosne Mubarak to the tune of about $2 billion a year.

WBZ-TV’s Joe Shortsleeve reports.

Lee Gilliam, a local landscaper, believes “We need to take care of our aid back here at home. We have people sleeping on the streets.”

Laura Cryts of Derry, NH also thinks we spend too much money on foreign interests. When asked to guess what percentage of the federal budget is spent on foreign aid, she estimated 20%.

Her guess is right in line with the sentiments of the rest of the country. A recent poll found Americans think we spend 25% of the budget on foreign aid.

Economist Bob Murphy of Boston College said the actual number is less than 1%.

“The foreign aid outlay that the Obama administration has put forth in its 2012 budget is $33 billion,” explained Murphy. “$33 billion isn’t chump change, but by the same token it’s not a lot in the grand scheme of what the government spends.”

Because things are so tight this year, the foreign aid budget is under fire. Some Tea Party republicans say it literally should be eliminated.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says that’s shortsighted. “The American people are rightly and justifiably concerned about our national debt, about our economy, and about unemployment, but I think Americans understand the need for responsible investments in our security.”

Professor Murphy agrees foreign aid is essential. “There are clearly benefits in terms of national security, ensuring that we have good relationships with governments around the world, that we are building civil societies and . . . preventing chaos . . . down the road.”

It’s a theory that sparked a debate in a diner. One man thinks 1% of the budget on foreign aid is a good idea because it can spread good will.

Laura Cryts thinks otherwise, saying “It’s wonderful to help out other countries that need our help because we are certainly a wonderful country, but I think we need to have more focus on Americans.”

How does the United States compare to other developed countries? As a percentage of their economies, both France and Great Britain spend about twice the rate of the United States.

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