Bill would withhold aid to Pakistan

A Texas House Republican introduced legislation Wednesday that would cut aid to Pakistan unless the State Department can certify that its government was not harboring Osama bin Laden.

“It seems like Pakistan might be playing both sides, and they have a lot of explaining to do,” Rep. Ted Poe said, noting that bin Laden was found “in a million-dollar compound just yards away from a Pakistani military base.”

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“Pakistan claims no knowledge of Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts,” Poe noted. “I just don’t buy it.”

His move is the culmination of three days’ worth of congressional anger at Pakistan. Since the news of bin Laden’s death broke Sunday, lawmakers have echoed the administration’s concerns about how Pakistan’s government could not know bin Laden was hiding in the country.

While Poe seemed to find some vocal support for his bill, the chances of its passage were unclear on Wednesday. The bill was introduced with three Republican co-sponsors: Reps. Vern Buchanan (Fla.), John Culberson (Texas) and Allen West (Fla.).

It might not have the support of Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who said Tuesday it’s “premature” to discuss cutting aid to Pakistan.

“We both benefit from having a strong bilateral relationship. This is not a time to back away from Pakistan,” Boehner said. “We need more engagement, not less.”

Poe’s legislation, the Pakistan Foreign Aid Accountability Act, would require the State Department to certify either that Pakistan had no information on bin Laden’s whereabouts or that it communicated what it knew to the U.S. government in an “expedited manner.” Without that certification, no aid could be given to Pakistan.

President Obama requested nearly $3 billion in aid to Pakistan in his 2012 budget proposal.

Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) also took to the House floor Wednesday to accuse Pakistan of protecting bin Laden, and said this should make Congress wary of providing more foreign aid.

“Foreign aid to Pakistan, though bin Laden was safely protected for 10 years in Pakistan, should make us question the wisdom of robbing American citizens to support any government around the world with foreign aid,” Paul said.

The Obama administration could object to cutting aid, as officials have stressed the need to continue working with Pakistan.

Outgoing CIA Director Leon Panetta told NBC News on Tuesday that “we have to go forward with the Pakistanis.”

“The reality is that in that part of the world, we have to have Pakistan’s cooperation in dealing not just with the issue of terrorism in their country, but dealing with the issue of how we find peace in Afghanistan,” he said.

Speaking before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in March, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Congress not to cut Pakistan’s aid, despite concern from lawmakers about defense contractor Raymond Davis, who was incarcerated by the Pakistani government at the time.

“We are working to deepen our partnership and keep it focused on addressing Pakistan’s political and economic challenges as well as our shared threats,” she said. The Pakistani government later released Davis.

In an interview with The Hill on Wednesday, House Armed Services Committee Vice Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) agreed that Washington should review and strengthen the stipulations it places on aid to Pakistan.

“We should be looking at how we can make Pakistan a more active partner versus groups that threaten us and them,” Thornberry said.

Before the House began its work Wednesday, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) said in a C-SPAN interview that Pakistan’s government is “schizophrenic” and that “there were elements of Pakistan that I’m sure knew” where bin Laden was hiding out for several years before he was killed earlier this week.

Sherman went even further, saying parts of Pakistan’s government are “at least al Qaeda-sympathetic.” For that reason, Sherman said, the U.S. must use the utmost care in how it distributes any aid it does give to Pakistan.

“The aid has got to be carefully given, only to the right forces, only for the right reasons and only in return for expected results,” he said.

There have also been concerns in the Senate.

On Monday, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) called for aid to Pakistan to be suspended immediately.

“Before we send another dime, we need to know whether Pakistan truly stands with us in the fight against terrorism,” he said in a statement. “Until Congress and the American public are assured that the Pakistani government is not shielding terrorists, financial aid to Pakistan should be suspended.”

John T. Bennett contributed.

This story was originally posted at 12:25 p.m. and updated at 8:13 p.m.