Conservative Hypocrisy on Foreign Aid

By: Laurence M. Vance

After initially threatening to veto it, Donald Trump signed into law a $2.3 trillion, 5,593-page spending bill that no member of Congress had read.

The “Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021” (H.R.133), which is a combination of twelve annual funding bills, COVID-19 relief, and pounds and pounds of pork, passed the House in two separate votes of 327-85 and 359-53. The first vote was on appropriations for the federal departments of Commerce, Justice, Defense, Treasury, and Homeland Security, and some federal components, including the White House and the District of Columbia. The second vote included appropriations for the remainder of the federal government as well as coronavirus stimulus and relief and many other miscellaneous provisions. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 92-6.

This bill funds the federal government through the end of the fiscal year (September 30, 2021) with $900 billion allocated for COVID-19 relief and a new $300 weekly supplement for the unemployed. But it also includes:

  • $4 billion for New York’s MTA as part of bailouts for mass-transit systems.
  • $15 billion earmarked toward grant programs for live entertainment venues such as Broadway.
  • $7 billion toward expanding broadband access.
  • $1.4 billion for the construction of a wall on the southern U.S. border.
  • $101 million to combat “the transnational threat of wildlife poaching and trafficking.”
  • New museums on the National Mall that will focus on Latinos and women.

And let’s not forget $25,000,000 for the Red Cross.

What is particularly egregious in this bill is the billions of dollars it appropriates for foreign aid, while Americans are each given a paltry $600 (unless the government decides that they make too much money, in which case they won’t get anything).

In Division K — “Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2021,” under Title II, “United States Agency for International Development” — here are some of the countries getting foreign aid and the amounts that they are getting:

  • Jordan — $1,650,000,000
  • Egypt — $1,300,000,000
  • Sudan — $700,000,000
  • Ukraine — $453,000,000
  • Israel — $500,000,000
  • Burma — $134,950,000
  • Nepal — $130,265,000
  • Cambodia — $85,505,000
  • Pakistan — $25,000,000

Senate Majority Leader Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) defended foreign-aid spending as just “1 percent of all American spending.” “Pakistan is a place I really worry about,” he told Fox & Friends Tuesday. “Eighty-five countries a woman can’t open a bank account without her husband’s signature, she can’t inherit property [sic]. If you’re a young girl in Pakistan, life is pretty tough, so we’re trying to make life better for women throughout the world.”

Many conservatives denounced the bill for its billions in foreign-aid spending.

But why?

Since when do conservatives object to the U.S. government’s spending money on foreign aid? Not just moderate Republicans or RINOs, but self-proclaimed conservatives. I can remember callers to Rush Limbaugh’s radio show being told not to make an issue of foreign aid, since it is only a small part of the U.S. budget. But how is that any different from what Republicans such as Lindsey Graham say? claims to be “the U.S. government’s primary tool for making U.S. foreign assistance data available to the public.” It serves as “the central repository for a range of budgetary and financial data produced by U.S. government agencies that manage foreign assistance portfolios”:

Foreign assistance is aid given by the United States to other countries to support global peace, security, and development efforts, and provide humanitarian relief during times of crisis. It is a strategic, economic, and moral imperative for the United States and vital to U.S. national security.

The first U.S. aid program took shape after World War II when then Secretary of State George Marshall acted to provide significant aid to Europe after the war to assist the continent in rebuilding its infrastructure, strengthening its economy, and stabilizing the region. This led to the creation of several foreign assistance programs in subsequent years to build off the success of the Marshall Plan. The next milestone for foreign assistance occurred in 1961, when President Kennedy signed the Foreign Assistance Act into law and created the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). This marked a significant increase in U.S. foreign assistance efforts and USAID became the first U.S. foreign assistance agency whose primary focus was long-term global development to include economic and social progress.

Today, the U.S. manages foreign assistance programs in more than 100 countries around the world through the efforts of over 20 different U.S. government agencies. These investments further America’s foreign policy interests on issues ranging from expanding free markets, combating extremism, ensuring stable democracies, and addressing the root causes of poverty, while simultaneously fostering global good will.

Foreign-assistance funding is classified into nine categories, which are further detailed into 52 sectors. The categories are environment; humanitarian assistance; program management; multi-sector; peace and security; democracy, human rights, and governance; health; education and social services; and economic development.

According to, here is what the United States spent on foreign aid in each of the last eight fiscal years:

  • 2020 — $27,064,353,440
  • 2019 — $34,779,516,730
  • 2018 — $32,931,513,141
  • 2017 — $34,278,435,721
  • 2016 — $40,321,782,361
  • 2015 — $34,463,138,249
  • 2014 — $28,499,626,933
  • 2013 — $27,454,812,743

Every penny given away to foreign countries had to first be appropriated by Congress. Conservative Republicans had a part in that as much as anyone else.

Oh, conservatives talk about reforming foreign aid, or withholding foreign aid if a country does something particularly amiss, but they have no philosophical objection to it. James Carafano, vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the Heritage Foundation — a well-respected conservative think tank — wrote just before Christmas that spending on foreign aid was wrong, but only because it was included in the COVID-19 relief bill. He said that Americans are right to be “upset about Congress sticking foreign aid and other international affairs items in omnibus spending along with the COVID-19 relief bill.” But —

There is absolutely a place for foreign assistance in federal spending. The U.S. is a global power with global interests and global responsibilities. To look after Americans and their interests, sometimes it makes good sense to spend money over there, for the benefit of folks back home.

A good example of that is investment in the Three Seas Initiative. Not only will that help allies, in the end, the U.S. will actually turn a profit from our investments.

Another example: The Trump administration implemented a strong program in support of women in other countries, addressing issues such as property rights and rule-of-law reform, initiatives that will help those nations and make them better partners for the U.S.

It’s definitely part of a sound “America First” foreign policy.

These programs are realistic, with concrete deliverables promoting the values that Americans cherish, and they track right back to supporting American policy objectives that further U.S. interests.

Sorry Mr. Carafano, but there is no place for foreign assistance in federal spending.

Foreign-aid spending is not authorized by the Constitution. Article I, Section 8, Paragraph 1 of the Constitution reads: “The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defence and general welfare of the United States; but all duties, imposts and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States.” Spending on foreign aid has nothing to do with providing for the common defense and general welfare of the United States. The list of powers granted to the federal government in Article I, Section 8, Paragraphs 2–18 does not include the power to take money from Americans and give it to foreign governments.

Foreign-aid spending is not a legitimate purpose of the U.S. government. The purpose of government is supposed to be to protect the lives, liberties, and property of the people who form it. Providing welfare and relief is illegitimate. And if it is illegitimate for the U.S. government to provide welfare and relief to Americans, then it is even more illegitimate for the U.S. government to provide them to foreigners.

Foreign-aid spending is not something that Americans want to spend their money on. Shouldn’t they have a say in how their tax dollars are spent? The amount of foreign assistance that has been requested for six Central Asian countries for fiscal year 2021 is:

  • Afghanistan — $371.8 million
  • Uzbekistan — $35.24 million
  • Turkmenistan — $200 thousand
  • Kazakhstan — $1.7 million
  • Kyrgyzstan — $20 million
  • Tajikistan — $28.45 million

If they were asked, how many Americans would want to give $457.39 million of their hard-earned money to six counties that they can barely spell? How many doors would you have to knock on before you found one American willing to write a check or even give you some pocket change?

Foreign-aid spending just makes no sense. With millions of Americans out of work and suffering the effects of the federal, state, and local governments’ response to the COVID-19 “pandemic,” it makes absolutely no sense for the U.S. government to send billions to foreign countries and give Americans each a $600 check.

Foreign aid spending is not an investment. It is not a “moral imperative.” It is simply the looting of American taxpayers. If Americans are worried about Pakistan, then let them get out their checkbook. If Americans want to do something about women not being able to open bank accounts or inherit property, then let them make withdrawals from their bank accounts. If Americans want to make life better for women throughout the world, then let them put their money where their mouth is.

All foreign aid, like all domestic charity, should be individual, private, and voluntary.

No matter how many times conservatives recite their mantra of the Constitution, limited government, private property, and individual liberty; and no matter how much they talk about the private sector, free enterprise, personal responsibility, and the free market, they only selectively believe in those things.

As I have said and written on countless occasions, the only limited government wanted by conservatives is a government limited to control by conservatives.