House Narrowly Rejects Punitive Cut In Aid To Egypt


Friday, June 9, 2006

The Wall Street Journal

By David Rogers


WASHINGTONAmid conflicting signals from the Bush administration, the Republican-led House narrowly rejected a bid to cut $100 million from U.S. aid to Egypt as a protest of its suppression of political dissent.

The 225-198 vote came as the House pushed toward passage today of a $21.3 billion foreign-aid budget that already rescinds $200 million from prior economic aid for Cairo.

Rep. Jim Kolbe (R., Ariz.), the bill’s manager, argued that to cut more at this stage would “kick sand in the face” of a strategic ally. But 44 Republicans, including House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry Hyde (R., Ill.), backed the amendment, whose chief sponsor, Rep. David Obey (D., Wis.), said State Department officials had signaled more receptivity given their own frustration with the Egyptian government’s performance.


Egypt is heading toward a precipice,” Mr. Obey said, arguing that Cairo hurts its self-interests by “fencing in and squeezing out” moderate opposition.


The clampdown in Egypt has tightened this spring as President Hosni Mubarak’s chief challenger in last year’s election, Ayman Nour, has been sentenced to five years in prison. Hundreds of protesters have been beaten and arrested by security forces; Mr. Nour’s supporters blame the government for a fire last week that destroyed his headquarters; and Egypt ordered an American pro-democracy group, the International Republican Institute, to suspend work in the country.

Mr. Obey, the senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee and a prominent voice on foreign policy, had first proposed cutting $200 million from the $1.3 billion in military aid for Egypt in 2007. Raytheon Co. and other military contractors with sales to Egypt helped block that proposal, so he turned to Chairman Hyde and focused on the $455 million pledged to Cairo in the form of economic-support funds.

To win votes, the amendment called for dividing the $100 million equally among two popular causes: fighting AIDS and famine in Africa. But among the strongest opponents were prominent African-American Democrats, such as Rep. Carolyn Kilpatrick (D.,

Mich.), whose Detroit-area district has a substantial Arab-American population.

The underlying foreign-aid bill represents a $597 million increase over this year, but this belies a major budget-cutting exercise, since the administration requested almost $2.4 billion more than

the bill would provide for the new budget year that begins Oct. 1. The administration is promised $3.4 billion to fight AIDS and tuberculosis, and the White House would get most, but not all, of the money requested for an initiative to fight malaria.

The House floor action came as Republican leaders in Congress reached final agreement on a long-delayed wartime-spending bill to pay for military operations in Iraq as well as Gulf Coast hurricane-recovery efforts. The House Appropriations panel released more detail about a proposed $427.6 billion Pentagon budget for 2007.

Within the $427.6 billion total, $50 billion represents a further emergency expenditure, largely for Iraq, and an ever-larger share of the funding is consumed by the escalating operations costs in the war. The remaining $377.6 billion represents the core

Pentagon budget for the year, and as with foreign aid, cuts are made from the administration’s request. The $81.78 billion provided for procurement is $1.14 billion less than requested and includes a $140 million cut from the Air Force procurement of the

Joint Strike Fighter and $88 million from planned purchases of the Global Hawk unmanned-aerial vehicle.