Speaking with White House pool reporters about the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien recently remarked, "There's circumstantial evidence that [COVID-19] could have come from the lab or the wet market" in Wuhan, China.
Most Americans would be surprised to learn, then, that the U.S. government has sent tax dollars to various Chinese institutions, some of which placed global health at greater risk for a deadly pandemic like we’re experiencing now with the novel coronavirus.
China’s wet markets are notoriously unsafe and have long been called-out by experts as a “perfect storm” environment for the origination of deadly pathogens. Now we are battling COVID-19, which has upended our lives and our economy. Like SARS, COVID-19 may well have originated in one China’s filthy wet markets where living animals—including cats and dogs—are bought, sold, and dismembered for human consumption in unsanitary and unregulated conditions.
This should have ended our government’s expenditures on China's wet markets - and failing to do so is too far beyond the normally force-fed and tired talking points about the economic and trade complexities of U.S.-China relations.
The taxpayer watchdog White Coat Waste Project revealed for nearly a decade the U.S. government was supporting China’s wet markets by spending tax dollars to have cats slaughtered, butchered, and brought back dismembered to the United States in—wait for it—carry-on luggage for experiments. Last year, the Trump administration took unprecedented action and shut down this wasteful and abusive program.
Now, Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA), alongside Senators Merkley (D-OR), Braun (R-IN), Manchin (D-WV) and Loeffler (R-GA), have introduced bipartisan legislation to permanently stop the government from spending a single penny of our tax dollars to buy live or dead animals at China’s disgusting, inhumane, dirty, and unsafe wet markets ever again. I'd encourage lawmakers to consider extending this proposed ban to wet markets around the world.
But that's not the end of taxpayers' dollars being shipped to China for inappropriate and dangerous purposes. Last month, new reports revealed portions of a federal grant funded dangerous virus experiments at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the bio-agent lab suspected as an origin for coronavirus. This is especially concerning because in 2018, the U.S. Department of State visited the facility and warned that its practices could cause a pandemic. Unfortunately, U.S. funding continued.
Sen. Martha McSally criticized this troublesome arrangement and called for a permanent end to U.S. funding. Days later President Donald Trump announced he would cut the funding. Senator McSally, with a coalition of more than 50 other lawmakers, is now demanding that no COVID-19 stimulus funds be sent to the Wuhan virus lab. What happens next remains to be seen.
Wet markets put human health gravely at risk. Our government should not spend our tax dollars there, nor pay for experiments involving deadly diseases while so many questions remain about safety, and all economic resources are needed to permanently control the outbreak.
While our country will remain embroiled in the week-to-week response effort for some time, what remains is a growing group of leaders taking hatchets to wasteful spending, especially the subsidization of things like foreign wet markets. Of course, this is all set against a backdrop of massive and unprecedented aid packages and spending bills so big, and so non-germane, that even the hawks can’t spot the millions of dollars slipping through the cracks.
It’s certainly OK to ask for more from our government. This kind of misspending in China is the worst byproduct of unchecked bureaucracies. But what happens when that bureaucracy is met with strong political will? My optimistic view is that these tragic wastes of money begin their end.
Those responsible for this global pandemic may never be held fully accountable but we now know our hand in funding, directly or indirectly, dangerous practices like these are on the record and (hopefully) on its way to the top of a growing stack of case studies on how to eliminate government waste, fraud, and abuse.