Foreign aid helps us, too

Sen. Rand Paul's idea of paying for disaster relief in the U.S. by cutting aid to other countries is undoubtedly more popular with his constituents than it was with his colleagues.

The Senate voted 78-20 last week to defeat Paul's amendment that cut foreign aid to offset relief spending needed because of a string of natural disasters at home.

Polls have long shown the average American thinks the U.S. spends too much on helping other countries. Polls also show the average American greatly overestimates how much that is.

For years, most people have told pollsters they think foreign aid makes up anywhere from 10 to 25 percent of the federal budget. Americans who think 20 percent of the federal budget goes to foreign aid also tell pollsters that 10 percent would be the right amount.

In fact, foreign aid makes up just 1 percent of the federal budget.

That 1 percent includes the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

In a fast-changing world that holds many dangers, 1 percent for diplomacy and making allies doesn't seem like too much.

Defense consumes 20 percent of the federal budget, and we'll be paying for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for years to come.

Yes, there are urgent needs at home — infrastructure and education come to mind. But if diplomacy, backed by foreign aid dollars, can avert the kinds of crises that require the much costlier exercise of military force, we'll save money in the end.

True thrift might even dictate an increase in the State Department's budget.