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By Jacob Geiger April 13, 2011

Barack Obama says foreign aid makes up 1 percent of U.S. budget

President Barack Obama’s April 13 speech on federal debt and spending contained plenty of interesting claims, and we’ll be checking those in the coming days.

We wanted to start with with a remark the president made to back up his contention that politicians often focus their deficit-cutting rhetoric on hot-button programs that are just a small portion of the federal budget.

Politicians in both parties, he said, "suggest that we can somehow close our entire deficit by eliminating things like foreign aid, even though foreign aid makes up about 1% of our entire budget."

We wondered if foreign aid really makes up such a small portion of federal spending.

In February, PolitiFact checked a claim by Ross Douthat, a columnist at The New York Times. Douthat said Israel and Egypt receive more foreign aid from Uncle Sam than any other nations. We rated that True, noting that if you exclude the spending on Afghanistan and Iraq, where military operations continue, Israel received $2.4 billion in the 2008 fiscal year, while Egypt got $1.5 billion.

Those 2008 figures came from the U.S. Census 2011 Statistical Abstract. The United States spent a total $49.1 billion on foreign aid that year. According to the Treasury Department and historical tables on the federal budget, total federal spending was $2.98 trillion for the 2008 fiscal year. That means foreign aid made up 1.64 percent of budget.

What about 2009? In that fiscal year, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development, the United States spent $44.9 billion, while overall government spending was $3.52 trillion. Foreign aid spending was 1.28 percent of the total budget.

If you’re wondering who else is a major U.S. aid recipient, here’s the rest of the top 10 from 2008: Russia ($1.3 billion), Sudan ($1.2 billion), Tanzania ($1.1 billion), Ethiopia ($1 billion), Pakistan ($963 million), Colombia ($888 million), Jordan ($833 million), and Mozambique ($799 million). The totals reflect both economic and military aid.

So Obama was almost exactly right in saying foreign aid consumes about 1 percent of the U.S. budget. In fiscal 2008 U.S. foreign aid spending of $49.1 billion made up 1.64 percent of total spending. The next year foreign aid spending was $44.9 billion, or 1.28 percent of the total budget.

We rate the president’s statement True.

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources

President Barack Obama, Speech on national debt, transcript, April 13, 2011.

U.S. Census Bureau,The 2011 Statistical Abstract, Foreign Commerce & Aid: Foreign Aid, U.S. Foreign Economic and Military Aid by Major Recipient Country, accessed Feb. 3, 2011.

U.S. AID, U.S. Overseas Loans and Grants,U.S. Total Economic and Military Assistance to the World, FY1982-FY2009, Feb. 3, 2011.

Government Printing Office,Budget of the United States Government: Historical tables, accessed Feb. 17, 2011.

PolitiFact Virginia, Rep. Scott Rigell says the U.S. borrows more than 40 cents of every dollar it spends, Feb. 17, 2011.

PolitiFact, Egypt got more foreign aid than anyone beside Israel, says New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, Feb. 4, 2011.

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More by Jacob Geiger

Barack Obama says foreign aid makes up 1 percent of U.S. budget

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