Lawrie McFarlane: U.S. spending bill stuffed with pork

When Donald Trump delayed before signing a COVID-19 relief and government funding bill passed by Congress, he was roundly criticized by Democrats, and by the U.S. media (but I repeat myself).

Here, in part, is why he stalled. The $900-billion US relief bill is combined with a $1.4-trillion omnibus spending bill, which is stuffed with pork.

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At 5,593 pages, these two monstrosities defend themselves against being read, that being the main purpose of their drafters. And lawmakers were allowed just six hours to review them.

As Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi famously said of the Obamacare Act: “You have to vote for the bill to see what’s inside it.”

Herewith, some examples of the stuffing in the omnibus spending bill:

$10 million is set aside for gender programs — in Pakistan.

Funds are provided for a study of the Springfield Race Riot. That lamentable event occurred in 1908.

There is a statement of policy “regarding the Succession or Reincarnation of the Dalai Lama.” I’m sure that must have warmed the heart of His Holiness Llamo Thondup, the 14th holder of that office.

Between them, Cambodia, Nepal, Burma, Ukraine and Sudan receive $1.486 billion in foreign aid. None are among the nations hardest hit by COVID-19, or anywhere near it.

A new Women’s History Museum and a new American Latino Museum are set up.

“Internet Freedom,” whatever that means, receives $2.5 million.

The U.S. Postal Service is banned from delivering e-cigarettes.

Unauthorized online movie streaming has been made punishable by five years in jail for a first offence, and 10 years for repeat offences.

Racehorse doping is now illegal (who knew it wasn’t?).

It is no longer a criminal offence to use images of Smokey the Bear without permission. Ditto unauthorized usage of the Swiss coat of arms, or transporting water hyacinths without a permit.

The Food and Drug Administration is instructed to produce a leaflet on the benefits of eating fish (apparently the piscine lobby has the same kind of clout as the NRA).

And more than $1 billion is targeted at the Smithsonian Museum, the Kennedy Centre in Washington and the National Gallery of Art, all of which are presently closed.

Now in one sense, this is nothing new. Among other senseless giveaways, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, which followed the 2008 recession, repealed a 39 cent excise tax on children’s toy arrows and bailed out racetracks.

That’s what happens when you fragment government into three competing powers (four if you count the courts). Everyone must get a share of the largesse to shower on their admiring voters.

It’s also what happens when election spending reaches gargantuan levels. In two run-off senate races, each of the Democrat candidates raised $100 million. That’s a lot of thank-you notes to write.

Not surprisingly, the current approval rate of the U.S. Congress is 15 per cent. It hasn’t crossed the 20 per cent line in a decade. And 61 per cent of the American public thinks the country is headed in the wrong direction.

What is surprising is that nothing changes.

I’m afraid the only sustainable conclusion is that America’s system of government is broken beyond repair. And regrettably, for all their complaining, the country’s voters appear to like it that way.

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