WASHINGTON: US Republicans moved Wednesday to cut aid to Pakistan, Israel's neighbors and leftist countries in Latin America, vowing to get tough on militants and US rivals amid a drive to curb spending.
In an often contentious session that ran late into the night, the Republican-led House Foreign Affairs Committee took up a range of priorities as it aimed to cut $6.4 billion from President Barack Obama's budget requests.
But to come into force, Republican lawmakers will need to reach a compromise with the Senate where Obama's Democratic Party retains control and is mostly supportive of the administration's international outreach.
In one key measure, the bill would impose further conditions on assistance to Pakistan at a time of mounting US concern about the country's military and intelligence in the wake of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
“The language in this bill puts that government on notice that it is no longer business as usual and that they will be held to account if they continue to refuse to cooperate,” said Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Republican chairwoman of the committee.
The Obama administration recently suspended about one-third of its $2.7 billion annual defense aid to Pakistan. But it has assured Islamabad it is committed to a five-year, $7.5 billion civilian package approved in 2009 that aims to build schools, infrastructure and democratic institutions.
The Republican bill would put that civilian aid in the firing line, requiring the United States to cut it if the administration does not certify measurable progress by Pakistan in fighting militants.
Representative Howard Berman, the top Democrat on the committee and a main author of the 2009 bill, said he agreed on the need to “get tough with Pakistan” but disagreed on restrictions over civilian aid.
“The key to long-term stability in Pakistan, and the only way we'll ever get Pakistan to change its behavior, is by strengthening its civilian institutions -- not weakening them as this bill will do,” Berman said.
The committee was expected to make a final vote Thursday, when it will also take up controversial issues including a Republican proposal to ban aid to non-governmental groups that provide abortions.
The bill would also end decades of security aid to Egypt, where protests swept out president Hosni Mubarak in February, unless the new leaders fully implement a peace treaty with Israel and exclude the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Republicans would also cut off security assistance to Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority and Yemen if militant movements such as Hezbollah and Hamas hold any position in government.
In a series of largely party line votes, the committee took aim at assistance to Latin American nations. The Republicans approved a measure to bar any aid to left-leaning Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Argentina.
Obama had requested some $96 million geared toward the five countries in the fiscal year starting in October but that includes aid to non-governmental organizations, which would not be affected.
The Republicans also pushed through the elimination of the $44 million in US funding for the Organization of American States, a regional bloc of 35 countries.
“Every time we turn around, the OAS instead of supporting democracies is supporting and coddling, if you will, the likes of Hugo Chavez,” said Republican Representative Connie Mack, referring to Venezuela's firebrand president.
Democrats sharply criticized Mack. Representative Gary Ackerman said that the United States would effectively be withdrawing in its own continent from a global competition with China for “hearts and minds.”
“At the proper time, I might just offer an amendment to pull out of the world and put all this money into digging a moat around the United States and putting a big dome over the thing,” Ackerman said sarcastically.
In one measure that enjoyed bipartisan support, the bill would prevent China from opening further consulates until the United States is allowed to maintain a mission in Lhasa, from where US diplomats could assess human rights in Tibet.