As Congress rushed to pass its year-end spending omnibus legislation and a coronavirus stimulus bill in one fell swoop Monday night, many objected to the process which essentially attached the crucial pandemic aid to a bevy of other priorities totaling $2.3 trillion.
Among the most controversial provisions were related to foreign aid and railed against by people ranging from conservative members of Congress to left-leaning journalists.
"It throws billions at foreign aid, including gender programs in Pakistan to the tune of $10 million," Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, said in a scathing statement.
Intercept co-founder Glenn Greenwald, meanwhile, objected to $500 million that was allocated for joint programs between the U.S. and Israel.
"Israel has universal health care while Americans - transferring yet more of your money to that foreign country - do not," Greenwald said.
He added: "As @Yair_Rosenberg points out, the $500,000,000 to Israel is not technically part of the COVID bill, but a separate bill passed with foreign aid - still at the same time Congress said they can't afford more than $600 in a one-time payment to Americans."
Also included in the massive omnibus package is $700 million in aid for Sudan; $135 million for Burma; $1.3 billion in military assistance for Egypt; $506 million for Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama as part of the Central America Regional Security Initiative; and much more.
Roy pointed out that there were "over 60 standalone bills that are unrelated to government funding or COVID relief, such as one regarding how the Dalai Lama is chosen, one to regulate horse racing, and one creating new Smithsonian museums."
Defenders of the Dalai Lama provision have said it is a worthwhile broadside against China. The provision contradicts the communist nation by saying it cannot play a role in "decisions regarding the selection, education, and veneration of Tibetan Buddhist religious leaders" which "are exclusively spiritual matters that should be made by the appropriate religious authorities within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition."
Roy also railed against the time members were given to read the legislation that he said "should have been divided into well over 20 bills."
"This bill was produced by legislative malpractice. The people’s representatives were locked out of this process. We didn’t get bill text until just before 2 p.m. Monday," he said. "The bill was almost 5,600 pages long. They didn’t want us to read it. They just wanted us to pass it. Given what is in it, it is easy to see why."
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., however, defended foreign aid spending as "1% of all American spending."
"Pakistan is a place I really worry about," Graham 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. 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."
"China is everywhere, we've gotta compete," Graham said.
Matt Whitlock, a senior adviser to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, aimed in a tweet to remind people that the coronavirus deal congressional leaders came to over the weekend did not actually involve foreign aid or many of the other controversial provisions. It was simply tacked onto a larger spending package that Congress needed to pass anyway as members and staffers rushed to get their year-end work done before Christmas.
Lawmakers were also racing the clock as yet another government shutdown deadline loomed at midnight.
"A lot of confusion about non-COVID priorities in this bill," Whitlock said. "Important to note that this is a year-end spending bill with a COVID relief bill attached to it. ... It's *NOT* like when Pelosi had a trillion in non-COVID priorities in a COVID bill."
Leaders in each chamber, meanwhile, touted that a coronavirus agreement had been reached.
"The Senate just passed another major bipartisan, COVID-19 relief package. The American people can rest assured that more help is on the way, immediately," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said.
"We consider this a first step. And that, again, more needs to be done," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said. "What I'm excited about in this bill – and it is really the Democratic difference – is what it does for America's working families."
In the House, the defense and Homeland Security spending, among other things, was voted on separately from the coronavirus bill, which was included in a separate package. That was done so Democrat members could vote against defense spending and border security elements in the legislation without putting the actual coronavirus relief in jeopardy.
But all of the legislation was voted on once in the Senate, making it in effect one piece of legislation representatives had to decide "yea" or "nay" on. That fact roiled many conservative elected officials.
"When your country’s COVID-19 relief bill includes $10 million in "gender programs" for Pakistan, you know Congress is broken," Rep.-elect Lauren Bobert, R-Colo., said.
Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., also slammed the fact "gender programs in Pakistan" were essentially tied to coronavirus relief.
"I predict the day our country's finances collapse, we will still be funding 'gender programs in Pakistan,'" Massie tweeted. "Tonight's COVID relief/stimulus bill has no less than $10 million for said programs attached to it."
Despite the vocal objections of some lawmakers, the legislation that's been derisively termed "coronabus" passed overwhelmingly in both chambers of the legislature with significant majority support from both parties.
The sections of the legislation passed 327-85 and 359-53 in the House. The full package passed 92-6 in the Senate.