(CNSNews.com) – A senior Democratic senator Thursday shot down an attempt by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to call up an amendment cutting off all U.S. aid to Egypt unless the authorities allow Americans being detained there to leave the country.
Paul delivered a strong-worded, five-and-a-half minute statement on the Senate floor, condemning what he called “trumped-up political charges” and criticizing the response by the Obama administration and Congress.
He urged senators to take up an amendment to a transportation bill which he said would “end all foreign aid to Egypt if our U.S. citizens are not released in 30 days.”
But Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who co-sponsored the bipartisan transportation bill with Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), objected.
“Members on both sides of the aisle, Republicans and Democrats, have very strong feelings that this amendment should not be brought up at this time,” she said. “We need to be smart and strategic when we have people in harm’s way in another country.”
Boxer pointed out that an existing law already places conditions on aid to Egypt, “and I think that needs to be understood and explored.”
Legislation signed into law last December ties the provision of $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt in fiscal year 2012 to certification that the government in Cairo “is supporting the transition to civilian government, including holding free and fair elections; implementing policies to protect freedom of expression, association, and religion, and due process of law.”
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Thursday Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would have to take up the certification issue, probably “later in the spring.” She declined to comment on whether the conditions for certification would be met given the current dispute.
Relations between Washington and Cairo have soured over a crackdown on U.S. and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Egyptian authorities intend to prosecute 43 individuals linked to the NGOs, including 19 American citizens, and have barred some of the Americans – including the son of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood – from leaving the country.
Experts variously attribute the dispute to a virulently anti-American government minister – a holdover from the Mubarak regime – and the military council that still holds executive authority in Egypt.
The country’s biggest political party, the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, is also supporting the crackdown, and one of its leaders has warned that any cutoff of U.S. aid could affect Egypt’s 33 year-old peace treaty with Israel.
‘Insolence and disregard’
Paul’s statement in the Senate included stinging criticism of foreign aid: “When will we learn? You can’t buy friendship and you can’t convince authoritarians to love freedom with welfare checks,” he said.
“Dependency often leads to indolence, lethargy, and a sense of entitlement and ultimately to a state of insolence.”
“Egypt has been receiving welfare from the United States for nearly 40 years now,” Paul said. “America has lavished over $60 billion on the government of Egypt and they react with insolence and disregard by detaining 19 of our U.S. citizens.”
Paul said President Obama should call in the Egyptian ambassador and send him home with “a message that America will not tolerate any country holding U.S. citizens as political prisoners.”
“Congress should act today to tell Egypt that we will no longer send our annual welfare check to them; that this year's $1.8 billion is not on the way.”
Instead, he said, both the president and the Senate had sent “weak or counterproductive” signals.
“The president’s budget this week includes the $1.8 billion for Egypt without a word of rebuke or any demand for our citizens be released. The president went one step further he actually increased the foreign aid to the Middle East in his budget.”
“And now the Senate refuses to even hold a single vote to spend 10 minutes discussing why U.S. citizens are being detained in Egypt,” Paul added.
He voiced the hoped that, over the recess, constituents who are struggling economically will ask senators why the U.S. continues to send their hard-earned tax dollars to Egypt – “to countries that openly show their disdain for us.”
Opposition to Paul’s amendment was not restricted to Democrats.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who plans to visit Egypt with a delegation at the weekend to discuss the dispute with officials there, is not supportive of Paul’s amendment.
During a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesday, after Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey expressed opposition to the proposed amendment, McCain told him, “I want to assure you that we are discussing that and ways to certainly avoid that action at this time.”
At the same time, he urged Dempsey to “explain to the rulers who are the military and leftovers from the Mubarak regime that this situation is really not acceptable to the American people. Our relationship with Egypt is vital, but the fact is that the welfare of our citizens are even more vital.”
Paul’s initiative has critics outside of Congress, too.
“Senator Paul’s proposals play into the hands of those in Egypt who wish to appeal to nationalism and to portray the United States as interfering and seeking to control Egypt’s internal affairs,” said Neil Hicks of the Washington-based advocacy group Human Rights First. “In fact, if the U.S. took this action, it may further expose and threaten NGOs in Egypt.”