he $900 billion coronavirus stimulus bill agreed by lawmakers has sparked fury among American voters and lawmakers, with warnings that the $600 per person payments ordered by the legislation is inadequate and comes too late to help many Americans whose lives have been upturned by the pandemic.
President Donald Trump on Tuesday added his voice to the bipartisan criticism of the “ridiculously low” sum, and demanded lawmakers increase the payments to $2,000 per person.
Lawmakers also approved a larger $1.4 trillion omnibus spending bill, consisting of 12 separate bills to fund the government during fiscal year 2021. This was not part of the coronavirus stimulus package, but did include a raft of foreign aid payments that critics are now arguing should be scrapped to fund more generous coronavirus checks for Americans.
This is a sensitive area for voters and lawmakers. Though foreign aid typically makes up around one percent of the entire federal budget, public perception is that the U.S. gives out far more. Polling suggests Americans believe the country spends up to a third of its entire budget on foreign aid.
Scrapping foreign aid alone would free up a relatively small amount in the federal budget. Still, Trump singled out these measures. “Congress found plenty of money for foreign countries, lobbyists and special interests, while sending the bare minimum to the American people who need it,” the president said.
It would be wrong to frame foreign aid as free money for countries included, or charity on the part of the U.S. The government uses aid as leverage to coerce nations into better behaviour on issues like human rights, or simply to align themselves closer to American policy.
Scaling back these commitments will weaken America’s hand in foreign policy, and will also leave vulnerable communities at greater risk of communal violence or state oppression. For opponents, this will be worth it if the money goes to Americans (of which there is no guarantee). But foreign policy experts and officials will push back on any attempt to undermine America’s clout abroad.