Inside the COVID Pork Bill

Did you know that today is National Bacon Day? I didn’t—but then I tend to think that every day is national bacon day. Or at least ought to be. Maybe when Homer Simpson is president.

In any case, our mind is on pork a lot at the moment because of the 5,593-page COVID relief and omnibus spending mashup Congress passed and President Trump reluctantly signed a couple days ago. There was much attention given to $10 million designated for “gender programs” in Pakistan, which sounds like a bad joke of some kind, but I got curious to see if this is literally in the bill as described, and guess what mom? Here it is on page 1497:

There is no further description of the nature of these “gender programs.” Is it going to be Judith Butler-style intersectionality? (From the looks of things, they hardly need our help on this subject.) That would be one way to get Pakistanis to hate us even more than they do already. There’s been some explanation that women in Pakistan are second-class citizens (at best), unable to own or inherit property, or open their own bank accounts without the co-signature of their husbands. Sort of like American women before 1970, according to legend—a regular Handmaid’s Tale. So I suppose this earmark may be intended to promote women’s equality in Pakistan. Good luck with that. How is it any of our business? I thought we are supposed to respect multicultural differences?

I had read or heard somewhere that this part of the bill dealt with military assistance, but in fact this designation appears in Division K, Titles IV and IX, the parts of the bill that fund the State Department’s “international security assistance” programs and “emergency funding.” Which isn’t exactly buying guns or providing training so our allies can help kill our enemies. This appears separate from whatever the Pentagon may do under Division C of the bill, or the separate defense funding bill that Trump vetoed.

As you scroll through more of Division K, you discover a lot of foreign aid, much of it highly micromanaged by the State Department (which means it was dreamed up by the State Department, and not by any member of Congress), and arguably much more egregious. Like this item for Jordan:

Okay, so Jordan is a steady ally, and a reasonable country by Middle East standards. But why do American taxpayers need to fork over $845 million to support Jordan’s general operating budget?

Aid for Sri Lanka comes with three pages of conditions such as:

Apparently we have given Sri Lanka an old Coast Guard cutter, but now need to provide the funds to refurbish it, but only so long as the crew is “instructed in human rights.” In other words, full employment for U.S. foreign service officers (and their outside consultants). Who at least won’t be able to fly first class:

Well thank goodness for this. (Assuming anyone believes this.)

Beyond the money involved and the presumption that the U.S. State Department should be trying to micromanage the governmental practices and social conditions of so many other countries with the lever of U.S. aid, this bill is a good glimpse into how the bureaucracy runs our government. All these neat programs, and the specific managerial language attached to them, are generated inside the agencies, and not by Congress, which merely rubber stamps this enormous program in the huge budget bills presented at the 11th hour every year. It is doubtful there is ever much congressional oversight or deliberation about these programs and targeted spending categories. This is the administrative state in action—a government that runs of itself.

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