Conservatives in Congress question foreign aid amid Middle East unrest

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W. James Antle III Managing Editor
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Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul has launched a one-man crusade to cut off foreign aid to Pakistan, Egypt and Libya. But as the turmoil in the Middle East grows, he is starting to get some company.

In a dear colleagues letter, Paul urged senators to adopt the following position: “You do not get foreign aid unless you are an unwavering ally of the United States.”

Paul has proposed to end foreign aid to Pakistan until the government releases Shakil Afridi, the doctor who helped the CIA identify Osama bin Laden, from prison. Libya and Egypt would not receive aid until everyone involved in the attacks on U.S. diplomatic posts in Benghazi and Cairo are arrested.

The tea party Senator has spent this week delaying a vote on $500 billion to fund the federal government until his foreign aid measure comes up for a vote.

Paul previously placed holds on ambassador nominations to Iraq and Pakistan, to the consternation of Senate Democratic leaders.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid quipped, “I just think my friend from Kentucky maybe should have run for secretary of state rather than the Senate.”

“Whatever happened to the great commitment of the conservative movement in America to freedom and democracy and to help it develop?” Massachusetts Democratic Sen. John Kerry asked on the Senate floor. “What the heck?”

Kerry is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a rumored candidate for secretary of state if President Barack Obama is re-elected.

“This can all be avoided with one simple action by Mr. Reid,” Paul wrote in an op-ed earlier this week. “Allow a vote on my bill to end foreign aid to Pakistan, Egypt, and Libya.”

Paul has pointed out that the continuing resolution he is blocking isn’t due until Sept. 30, arguing that his colleagues are eager to leave town to campaign.

No one has been as zealous in this fight as Paul. His first federal budget proposal in 2011 would have zeroed out all foreign aid.

But Paul has since narrowed his critique to aid to countries that are either enemies or unreliable allies of the United States. The recent unrest in the Middle East has caused other conservatives to think along the same lines.

South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint said in a statement that the embassy attacks “raise serious questions about whether we were properly prepared and about the effectiveness of our policies and foreign aid in these nations.”

Oklahoma Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe introduced his own resolution suspending aid to Egypt and Libya. “When you attack an embassy,” he said, “you attack America.”

Minnesota Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann, a former candidate for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination, has called for ending aid to Egypt.

“We need to tell the Muslim Brotherhood-controlled government in Egypt, if you continue to inflame sentiments against the United States, we will immediately put an end to the United States taxpayer gravy train that we’re sending your way, starting with the $1.5 billion we send Egypt in aid and the $1 billion in loan forgiveness program and the $5 billion International Monetary Fund loan program that we’re backing,” she said in her speech to the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C.

Florida Republican Rep. Allen West also demanded an end to the Egypt aid and urged the Obama administration to repudiate the Muslim Brotherhood “and all radical Islamist political entities.”

Slate political reporter David Weigel described cutting aid to Egypt and Libya as “the next conservative cause.”

Yet not all Republicans are getting on board. Arizona Sen. John McCain and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham have pushed back against efforts to cut foreign aid.

Graham has dismissed aid reductions as “the libertarian view.”

In the meantime, Paul continues to press for a vote. His quest is starting to look less lonely.

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