Senate panel proposes new restrictions on foreign aid to Egypt

A Senate panel on Tuesday proposed new restrictions on foreign aid to Egypt in the wake of this month’s military ouster of democratically-elected Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.

The measure before the Appropriations subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs would provide $250 million in economic aid and $1.3 billion in military assistance requested by the Obama administration for Egypt, but would force Cairo to take steps to move quickly to restore civilian rule.

The restrictions come as part of a 2014 spending bill that will come before the full Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday.

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Under the measures, one quarter of the military aid is transferred immediately to Egypt, with a second slice approved once Secretary of State John Kerry certifies that the government in Cairo has released political prisoners and supports an “inclusive political processes,” according to a staff summary. 

Another round of military aid will be transferred once there is a new election and a new government and the final portion of aid will be approved once the new regime is deemed to be democratic and working to protect the rights of minority groups and women. 

The administration is allowed to waive the first two restrictions if there is a national security issue with failing to provide the aid, however. 

Congress imposed a different set of conditions, without tranches, in the last two fiscal years but the Obama administration waived those measures. 

Subcommittee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has been the driving force behind the restrictions, an aide said. 

Overall, the State Department and foreign operations appropriations title spends $50.6 billion. That is $10 billion more than the House is proposing, but a cut of $2.7 billion from 2013.

The bill has $1.28 billion less for Afghanistan than President Obama requested and $465 million less for Pakistan.

The bill was supported by subcommittee ranking member Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

“I know we are financially challenged, but America cannot withdraw from the world,” Graham said, noting the bill is less that 1 percent of the total federal budget.

He said humanitarian assistance and related diplomatic works “create leverage without always having to use military force” and argued those efforts, like ending malaria in Africa, will create markets for U.S. goods in the end. 

A House panel last week voted to cut foreign aid spending by $5.8 billion.

Leahy argued that approach is dangerous.

“The choices are stark – delude ourselves into believing that our military power is enough and the United Nations, the World Health Organization and our foreign assistance programs are unimportant or a luxury we cannot afford, or spend a mere 1 percent of our entire federal budget to engage with the world,” he said. “Sen. Graham and I choose the latter course, and this bill, which was drafted in a fully bipartisan manner, is our answer.”

During the subcommittee markup, an amendment was accepted to condition Afghanistan aid.

Leahy said he was outraged by a proposal in Afghanistan to tax U.S. goods being moved out of the country as the NATO coalition winds down the war and draws down troops.

“I have seen some stupid things by that government ... but this one just went beyond the pale,” he said. “After all we did for them.”

The amendment would withhold $5 in aid for every dollar in taxes imposed by Kabul.

“It’s a subtle message, which I think they’ll understand,” Leahy said..