The Cable

Bill and Melinda Gates come to D.C. hat in hand

Bill and Melinda Gates are making the rounds in Washington today to make their case for an increase in foreign development aid, specifically related to the global heath cause the world’s wealthiest couple have made their full time jobs. The pair is meeting with Congressmen, policy makers, and administration officials all day, leading up to ...

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TORONTO - AUGUST 13: Microsoft co-founder and chairman Bill Gates looks on as his wife Melinda Gates speaks during the opening ceremonies of the XVI International AIDS Conference August 13, 2006 in Toronto, Canada. The week-long convention is bringing together more than 20000 activists, actors, and politicians from around the globe to discuss the global pandemic first diagnosed 25 years ago. (Photo by Simon Hayter/Getty Images)

Bill and Melinda Gates are making the rounds in Washington today to make their case for an increase in foreign development aid, specifically related to the global heath cause the world’s wealthiest couple have made their full time jobs.

The pair is meeting with Congressmen, policy makers, and administration officials all day, leading up to their video presentation “Why we are impatient optimists,” to be broadcast live on the web at 7 p.m. Their message is that huge increases made by the Bush administration are yielding results and must not fall victim to a lack of attention or budget resources in Washington.

The approximately $8 billion foreign aid health commitments is exponentially larger than when the Bush administration took office in 2001, but the couple expressed concern that the economic crisis and the ongoing government funding woes might put pressure on leaders to find savings by not continuing the growth of aid funding.

“This administration has been great at saying yes, this is effective, and they have plans to get it up quite a bit above the $8 billion,” said Bill. “Nobody knows, as people try to balance the budget, how exactly that’s going to work.”

While AIDS and Malaria have been somewhat beaten back in the third world, maternal and early childhood deaths are still largely unaddressed and require new investment, Melinda said.

“You’re not hearing about the positive changes that are happening because of these investments,” she said, “This money works, it’s not a huge part of the government budget, but what we’re doing actually works and probably there needs to be more.”

The couple’s main vehicle is the Gates Foundation’s Living Proof Project, which is partnered with the Global Fund, the President’s Malaria Initiative, and the GAVI Alliance.

And while the group doesn’t have explicit positions on the road ahead for foreign aid reform, they are acutely aware that major decisions are in the offing about the structure and role of foreign aid organizations in the U.S. government.

Senators Chris Dodd, D-CT, Richard Durbin, D-IL, and Ben Cardin, D-MD, introduced the latest in a string of bills aimed at strengthening USAID and its administrator this month.

“The United States faces an ever-growing array of foreign policy challenges, and in nearly every instance, international development should be part of the solution,” said Dodd, “An empowered USAID is critical for a strong and effective American foreign and national security policy, and providing USAID with the resources, support, and staff it needs will go a long way towards meeting these important goals.”

The role of USAID and its administrator are part of two ongoing administration reviews, the State Department’s Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, largely guided by deputy secretary Jack Lew and policy planning chief Anne-Marie Slaughter, and a PNR review at the National Security Council led by Gayle Smith.

Simon Hayter/Getty Images

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