Rand Paul Foreign Aid Bill Stirs Foreign Policy Discussion

Credit: Gage Skidmore[/caption]

Senator Rand Paul (KY), introduced a bill Wednesday to cut off all Washington foreign aid to Pakistan, Libya, and Egypt until certain conditions are met.

The bill is based on amendments Paul offered last week, “in light of recent aggression toward American consulates and embassies in these countries,” to strip the three countries of Washington foreign aid totaling $4 billion and divert $2 billion of that money to US military veterans’ programs, while leaving the remainder out of the federal budget to reduce the deficit.

The Kentucky senator threatened to filibuster all Senate business– including a $500 billion spending bill to fund the federal government for the next six months, and the confirmation of new ambassadors to Iraq and Pakistan– until his foreign aid bill is allotted a brief time for debate on the Senate floor and a full vote.

In the Washington Times op ed cited above, Senator Paul argued:

“American taxpayer dollars should not go to Libya until the murderers are delivered to justice. Nor should they go to Egypt until the Egyptians prove that they are willing and able to protect our embassy. Finally, not one more penny of American taxpayer dollars should go to Pakistan until the doctor who helped us get bin Laden is freed.

We should not reward bad behavior, yet that is what we’ve done with foreign aid for so many years. The total U.S. foreign aid given to Pakistan, Libya and Egypt equals roughly $4 billion per year. But enough is enough. So I have announced that I will block any and all legislation until Mr. Reid allows for a debate and vote on these foreign aid bills.”

The Rand Paul foreign aid amendments and this week’s foreign aid bill have stirred a foreign policy discussion and debate among lawmakers in Washington. Senator John Kerry (MA), who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, argued that the Libyan and Egyptian governments were not responsible for the attacks on the US embassies, and that the United States has a role to play in fostering democratic government overseas:

“Whatever happened to the great commitment of the conservative movement in America to freedom and democracy and to help it develop? … What the heck?”

In a letter to Senate colleagues Tuesday, Paul addressed the argument that Libya and Egypt are not to blame for the recent embassy attacks, and suggested a compromise on his measures, writing:

“…significant cuts that are less than the full amount of foreign aid could be considered, coupled with redirecting a portion of the money into the improvement of security at our diplomatic facilities. If these countries cannot secure American lives and property, our increased cost of doing so must come out of the money set aside for aid.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (NV) jabbed at the junior Kentucky senator: “I just think my friend from Kentucky maybe should have run for secretary of state rather than the Senate,” though spending priorities, including foreign spending, are not outside the purview of Congress.

In Rand Paul’s own party, Senator Lindsey Graham (SC) has been one of the sharpest critics of the Rand Paul foreign aid measures. Thursday, the South Carolina senator argued that cutting foreign aid to Pakistan, Libya, and Egypt would threaten US national security:

“Rand Paul is one nice fellow, but I bet you he’s never talked with CIA Director General Petraeus about what would happen if we cut our aid off to Pakistan…

Here’s what I convey to my colleagues: don’t be indifferent: the people I want to give the aid to and support to are the ones that I have some hope that I can live with in peace. The radical Islamists know that they cannot win if we stay in the region.”

Earlier this year, Gallup reported that 71% of Egyptians oppose US aid to Egypt. Last year, Gallup reported that 59% of Americans favor cutting foreign aid, and more favored cutting foreign aid than any other category of Washington spending included in the survey, including, in order: “Funding for the arts and sciences, Aid to farmers, Homeland security, The military and national defense, anti-poverty programs, Medicare, Social Security, and Education.”

Over at Slate, Dave Weigel called cutting foreign aid to countries like Egypt and Libya “the next conservative cause,” and enjoined his readers to “Keep watching that meme.”