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Perry: My foreign aid budget starts at zero

Updated at 10:48 p.m. ET

Texas Gov. Rick Perry said he would cut the United States' foreign aid budget to zero and then allocate taxpayer dollars depending on each country's support for America, indicating that Pakistan would no longer receive U.S. aid but Israel would.

(Watch at left)

"It's time for us as a country to say no to foreign aid to countries that don't support the United States of America," Perry said.

His idea received support from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich but, in the case of Pakistan, was opposed by Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum at the CBS News/National Journal debate in Spartanburg, S.C.

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Perry made his comments during a discussion on Pakistan. The American relationship with that country has become strained since the covert operation by U.S. Marines killed Osama bin Laden, who had been hiding in the country for years.

(Watch the discussion at left)

In explaining his agreement with Perry, Gingrich appeared to indicate that no thought goes into deciding how much aid each country receives.

"Consider the alternative," Gingrich said. "You're giving some country $7 billion a year. You start off-- or in the case of Egypt, $3 billion a year -- you start off every year and say here's your $3 billion, now I'll start thinking? You ought to start off at zero and say, explain to me why I should give you a penny."

Bachmann, who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, depicted foreign aid for Pakistan as a national security issue.

"I would reduce foreign aid to many, many countries, but there's a problem because Pakistan has a nuclear weapon," Bachmann said. "We have more people affiliated with al Qaeda closer to that nuclear bomb than in any other nation."

For Santorum, Pakistan "must be a friend of the United States" for the same reason.

"Pakistan is a nuclear power, and there are people in that country if they gain control of that country will create a situation equal to the situation that is now percolating in Iran," Santorum said. "So we can't be indecisive about whether Pakistan is our friend. They must be our friend, and we must engage them as friends."

The foreign aid budget is a familiar punching bag for political candidates but only accounts for a small percentage of the entire federal budget. Earlier this year, reported that in the 2008 and 2009 fiscal years U.S. spending on foreign aid amounted to $49.1 billion and $44.9 billion respectively, or slightly more than 1 percent of the U.S. budget each year.

For the 2012 fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, President Obama requested $50.8 billion for foreign aid.

In response to a viewer question submitted via Twitter about the amount of aid Israel would receive, Perry indicated that he'd support providing the country with aid. He also considered expanding the case-by-case budgetary method to federal departments, making a reference to a debate earlier this week in which he could only name two of the three departments he wanted to defund.

"Obviously, Israel is a special ally, and my bet is that we would be funding them at some substantial level," Perry said. "But it makes sense for everyone to come in at zero and make your case. As a matter of fact, we ought to try doing that with some of those agencies that I was trying to think the name of."

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By the end of the debate, the Perry campaign had issued a statement clarifying that he's "a friend to Israel and understands the challenges faced by the country," according to Talking Points Memo.

"We must not let any daylight show between our two nations," the statement says, adding that Perry "does not believe weakening Israel is the road to peace. A strong Israel is in the best interests of the United States and the region."


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