WASHINGTON – A House panel unveiled a bill Monday that would block U.S. aid to Pakistan, Egypt, Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority unless the Obama administration reassures Congress that they are cooperating in the worldwide fight against terrorism.
The legislation is a direct challenge to President Barack Obama and his foreign policy authority, and comes as the House is looking at significant cuts in the annual budget for the State Department and foreign assistance. The House Foreign Affairs Committee will consider the bill authorizing the money on Wednesday. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., chairwoman of the panel, released an initial draft on Monday.
While the House is likely to approve the bill, its prospects in the Democratic-controlled Senate are dim. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., is likely to reject many of the bill's provisions.
The bill would bar aid to Pakistan unless the secretary of state can certify to Congress that Islamabad is "fully assisting the United States with investigating the existence of an official or unofficial support network in Pakistan for Osama bin Laden, including by providing the United States with direct access to Osama bin Laden's relatives in Pakistan and to Osama bin Laden's former compound in Abottabad."
In May, U.S. forces killed bin Laden while he was living at a compound not far from Pakistan's equivalent of West Point, raising questions among lawmakers about what the Pakistanis knew.
Aid to the Palestinian Authority would be contingent on the secretary certifying that no member of Hamas or any other terrorist organization was serving in a policy position in a ministry, agency or other entity. The two rival Palestinian leaderships — the secular Fatah and the Islamist Hamas — reconciled and are trying to form a new government. Israel and the U.S. both consider Hamas a terrorist organization.
The Obama administration has requested some $550 million in aid for the Palestinian Authority.
Assistance for Egypt would be based on whether its new government "is not directly or indirectly controlled by a foreign terrorist organization." The bill would also direct the administration to reassure Congress that Egypt is searching out and destroying any smuggling network and tunnels between the country and the Gaza strip.
Israeli and American officials fear that Hamas is moving weapons and militants into the Palestinian territory through tunnels along the Gaza border.
Aid to Lebanon would be contingent on the secretary certifying to Congress that no member of Hezbollah serves in a policy position in a ministry, agency or entity in the government.
The bill also takes several steps to help protect Peace Corps volunteers, including training on reducing the risks of sexual assault. In May, the committee heard testimony from three Peace Corps volunteers who were raped while serving overseas and the mother of a fourth who was murdered in Benin.
A separate spending bill likely will provide $40 billion for foreign operations next year, $9 billion less than the current amount and $11 billion less than Obama requested.