Senate panel votes to cut aid for Pakistan, Egypt

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a fresh warning to Pakistan, a Senate panel on Tuesday approved a foreign aid budget for next year that slashes President Barack Obama's request for assistance to Islamabad by more than half and threatens further reductions if it fails to open supply routes to NATO forces in Afghanistan.

The Senate Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations also cut aid to Iraq, Egypt and Afghanistan while adding $50 million for Jordan to help it handle the influx of refugees from a violent Syria.

By voice vote, the panel approved the overall bill totaling $52.1 billion, which is $2.6 billion less than what Obama requested for the 2013 fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 and $1.2 billion below current spending. The full Appropriations Committee meets Thursday to give its final approval to the legislation.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the chairman of the subcommittee, and the panel's top Republican, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said money for Pakistan was cut 58 percent from Obama's request as lawmakers question Islamabad's commitment to the fight against terrorism and as resentment lingers on Capitol Hill a year after Osama bin Laden was killed deep inside Pakistan. Tensions have increased as Pakistan closed overland supply routes to Afghanistan after a U.S. attack on the Pakistani side of the border killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November.

"We're not adding to the money in the pipeline, but we're going to basically take all of the money out of the pipeline if we can't get these routes open because we're not going to invest in a country that won't help us in a reasonable way to deal with the threats to our forces in Afghanistan," Graham told reporters after the panel's vote.

The bill would provide $1 billion in aid to Pakistan, including $184 million for State Department operations and $800 million for foreign assistance. Counterinsurgency money for Pakistan would be limited to $50 million.

The legislation also conditions the counterinsurgency aid on Pakistan reopening the supply routes.

Islamabad won't get any of the funds for counterinsurgency or money in prior legislation unless the secretary of State certifies to the Appropriations committees that "the government of Pakistan has reopened overland cargo routes available to support United States and North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops in Afghanistan, and funds appropriated under this heading can be used efficiently and effectively by the end of the fiscal year," the legislation says

If the secretary can't certify to Congress, the money would be transferred to other accounts.

The panel also cut money Obama proposed for Iraq by 77 percent, citing the deteriorating security situation there. The bill would provide $1.1 billion for Iraq, including $582 million in foreign assistance but no money for the police development program.

"Because the Iraqi police training program has not progressed as hoped, and our relations with Pakistan have been stalled for months, Sen. Graham and I have not used $881 million that the full committee initially recommended for the subcommittee. That is money we are saving the taxpayers," Leahy said.

The panel also cut $5 million from the $250 million in economic assistance for Egypt. Graham said it equaled the amount the U.S. spent to get non-government workers out earlier this year, including Sam LaHood, son of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

"We got our money back," Graham said.

The remaining aid, totaling more than $1.2 billion, is conditioned on Cairo adhering to the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt and conducting an orderly transition to civilian control.

Funds for Afghanistan that Obama sought were cut 28 percent to $3.5 billion to reflect that the Afghans are taking a greater lead in the country and the United States is reducing its civilian and military presence.

The Senate version of the bill must be reconciled with the House version that totals about $48 billion, including $8 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.