Feb. 3 (Bloomberg) -- Senior members of the U.S. Congress are debating whether to halt foreign aid to Egypt as a way to hasten President Hosni Mubarak’s exit from power amid continuing protests against his three-decade rule.
Senator Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the panel that controls foreign aid, said he’s prepared to stop all U.S. financial assistance to Egypt -- which topped $1.5 billion last year -- unless Mubarak steps aside immediately and allows a transitional government to take over.
“If he doesn’t leave, there will not be foreign aid; I mean, it’s as simple as that,” Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, told Bloomberg Television in an interview yesterday. U.S. money “will not go to the Mubarak administration,” Leahy said, adding, “that’s a pipeline that can easily be turned off.”
That approach is at odds with the one taken by the Republicans who head the House committee that controls foreign aid spending. Representative Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican, said it is “premature” to make any decisions on aid to Egypt.
“We’ve got a very solid relationship with Egypt, and the aid that we’ve rendered over the years has been one of the things that has given us some leverage and some stability,” Cole, the vice chairman of the foreign assistance spending subcommittee, said in an interview. “I don’t think it’s the time to be making threats or to be suspending what I think has been a very productive, 30-year relationship.”
In a statement earlier this week, Representative Kay Granger of Texas, the panel’s chairwoman, responded to calls for halting aid by urging “caution.” She said the U.S. should be “deliberate about the actions we take.”
Stopping aid to Egypt wouldn’t be simple. Majorities in the Senate and House would have to vote to do so -- no certainty, given the divide emerging among lawmakers -- and some of the money has already been spent, as Leahy acknowledged. Congress could at most pull back unspent or unobligated money, funds that are in the “pipeline” to which Leahy referred.
Mubarak’s announcement earlier this week that he wouldn’t run in elections scheduled for September failed to quell protests against his government, and stoked the anger of demonstrators who have since stepped up their demands for his quick departure.
Even before Mubarak’s announcement, Representative Gary L. Ackerman of New York, the top Democrat on the House panel that oversees Middle East policy, had urged suspension of U.S. aid until the embattled leader stepped down. Ackerman was the first U.S. lawmaker to call publicly for Mubarak’s ouster.
Democratic Representative Lloyd Doggett of Texas also is pushing to use the only degree of control lawmakers have on foreign policy matters -- the power of the purse -- to prod Mubarak off stage.
Doggett, a nine-term House member who previously sought to limit aid to Egypt, wrote to President Barack Obama yesterday asking him to make it clear to Mubarak and his government that “Egypt will not receive one more cent of American money until he begins the peaceful, orderly transition to a democratically elected government today.”
The U.S. “must send the unmistakable message to Mubarak and all dictators who are watching our response that we will not continue to waste money propping up his tyranny,” Doggett wrote.
Cutting Military Aid
Democratic Representative Jim Moran of Virginia also suggested the U.S. should consider using money as a lever to influence the Egyptian leader.
“If Mubarak doesn’t end the hostilities against unarmed protesters, we should cut all military aid until he leaves power,” Moran, a member of the House panel that controls military spending, said in an e-mailed statement.
The current dispute over whether to limit aid to Egypt echoes past debates in Congress that cut across party lines. At various points over the last decade, Republicans and Democrats have sought to slash funding for Egypt as a way of signaling displeasure with Mubarak’s regime.
Ackerman, Doggett and Moran all backed an unsuccessful move five years ago to cut $100 million in Egypt aid. The House turned back the attempt, 225-198.
Leahy said his preference now would be to redirect U.S. aid to a new group of leaders in Egypt.
“What I’d like to be able to say is, ‘We’re in a position to help the transitional government that has democratic values, believes in democracy, but also believes in helping its own people,’” Leahy said.
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