On Friday, the House passed the Heroes Act by a narrow majority, largely along party lines. The bill, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), was written without Republican or White House input and faces an uphill climb in the GOP-led senate. But as it stands, House Democratic leadership decided not to fund any global efforts to try to mitigate the damage caused by the virus or to try to prevent the next pandemic from emerging.
When Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) rightly criticized the Trump administration for suspending U.S. funding for the World Health Organization last month, they touted the value of U.S global leadership on fighting the coronavirus abroad.
“We can only be successful in defeating this global pandemic through a coordinated international response with respect for science and data,” Pelosi said April 15.
“A global challenge requires a global response, which is why we must work across borders to protect our planet and safeguard the most vulnerable from climate change and natural disasters,” Hoyer said a few days later. “It’s why we must also push for America to work in concert with the rest of the world in combatting coronavirus and ensuring that critical, life-saving resources are available to all those who need them.”
Yet although the bill passed on Friday has a section on “Global Health Security,” there’s no actual money provided to implement it. The bill calls for the Trump administration to establish a “Global Health Security Agenda Interagency Review Council” and also urges Trump to appoint a “United States Coordinator for Global Health Security.” Several strategy reports are ordered up. But not one red cent is given.
House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking Republican Michael McCaul (Tex.) was quick to point out this hypocrisy after the bill passed the House. “It is incredibly disingenuous when Democrat leaders complain that the Administration isn’t acting like a global leader in the battle against COVID-19 when their so-called 3 Trillion dollar ‘wish list’ bill doesn’t includes a single cent of funding for international aid,” he said in a statement.
It’s not just about health security. The last coronavirus supplemental bill dedicated $1.15 billion, about 0.05 percent of the $2.2 trillion total, to international assistance. The first supplement contained about $1.25 billion for humanitarian aid, refugee assistance, international disaster assistance, etc. Of that funding, the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development have pledged to spend more than $900 million, mostly to bolster international aid organizations.
Congress isn’t the only one to blame. The Trump administration hasn’t requested large amounts of international coronavirus assistance. It has even declined to participate in some international efforts to coordinate the response, much less lead them.
International assistance, which usually runs about 1 percent of the federal budget, has enjoyed bipartisan support for a generation. Among those who have publicly called for more U.S. international assistance to fight the pandemic are Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.), Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J), Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and many more. Over two dozen former senators and congressmen wrote to House and Senate leaders last week, urging them not to ignore international assistance in this legislation. But their pleas fell on deaf ears.
“The Heroes Act is a domestic mitigation bill to confront the health and economic needs of the American people,” a senior Democratic congressional aide told me. “International priorities will be funded through the regular appropriations process.”
That means international assistance will have to compete with every other budget priority — if and when Congress takes up the fiscal 2021 appropriations bills this fall. If the bipartisan calls for such funding didn’t yield results in the trillions worth of supplemental bills so far, there’s not much hope those accounts will see windfalls in the regular, more stringent funding bills.
Meanwhile, the international need to help the most vulnerable populations deal with the pandemic is only growing. According to Mark Lowcock, the U.N. undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, the cost of protecting only the most vulnerable 10 percent of people around the world is at least $90 billion. If we ignore the poorest coronavirus victims now, those countries’ crises will not stay contained, he said May 7.
“To meet these costs, wealthy countries will need to make significant one-off increases in their foreign aid commitments,” he said. “The alternative is dealing with the spill-over effects over many years to come. That would prove even more painful, and much more expensive. For everyone.”
Foreign assistance is about helping poor countries become more stable, prosperous and healthy. Doing so makes them better security and economic partners for us. If we just let them fester and succumb to the pandemic, we are only harming our own economic recovery, security and health down the line.