Rand Paul targets Egypt aid

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) plans to use next week's vote on transportation spending to end aid to Egypt following the ouster of the country's freely elected president.

Paul's amendment comes as a growing number of senators are rebelling against the White House's decision not to call Mohamed Morsi's ouster a military coup, a declaration that would automatically freeze the $1.5 billion in mostly military aid the U.S. provides every year. 

The foreign aid skeptic proposes spending the money on the country's crumbling bridges instead, an issue that has bipartisan appeal.

“It is no secret that our nation’s roads and bridges are crumbling at an increasing rate, many of which are in critical stages of disrepair,” Paul said in introducing the amendment. 

“Instead of sending taxpayer money to countries that are ineligible to receive our aid, like Egypt, we should be directing that money to these pressing domestic needs.”

The effort also comes after a weekend of violent clashes between military forces and Morsi supporters in Egypt which left dozens dead and threatened to further destabilize the Mideast nation. 

Paul has long sought to rein in aid to Egypt, without success. The Obama administration's decision not to make a coup determination, however, may have given him an opening.

Even lawmakers who support continuing the aid are angry that the State Department is bypassing the law. Voting to cut aid may be their only chance of forcing the administration to reconsider.

“My feeling is we should look and make a determination. Is what took place a coup?” said Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the top Republican on the Foreign Relations panel, said it's past time for the administration to make a determination.

“For a period of time, it's okay to try to look into the situation and understand where you are,” he told The Hill. “At some point, you go beyond a point of credibility, and you really need to go ahead and take it out and deal with it. And I think we're finding ourselves in that period of time now.”

Others — including Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) — have said Morsi's ouster was clearly a coup and should be labeled as such. They say Congress could then issue a waiver so aid can continue to flow.

The State Department said Friday that it won't call Morsi's removal a coup because it feels it doesn't have to do so.

“The law does not require us to make a formal determination — that is a review that we have undergone — as to whether a coup took place, and it is not in our national interest to make such a determination,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Friday. “We have determined we are not going to make a determination.”

Paul's amendment would redirect the funding to a “Bridges in Critical Corridors” fund created by the Transportation-Housing and Urban Development Appropriations bill. 

Senate appropriators set aside $500 million for the fund when they cleared the spending legislation out of committee this past week and President Obama on Thursday pressed for more spending on the nation's roads and bridges.