House moves to restrict U.S. foreign aid

House Republicans sought to put their stamp on U.S. foreign policy Wednesday by advancing a bill that would slash federal payments to the United Nations and other international bodies and slap restrictions on aid to Pakistan, Egypt and others.

With the bill, the House Foreign Affairs Committee sought to rein in some of President Obama’s policies and to slice $6.4 billion from his $51 billion request for 2012 for the State Department and foreign operations.

The measure’s passage was a foregone conclusion because of the panel’s Republican majority. Even if it passes the full House, though, the bill is expected to be dead on arrival in the Senate, where the Democratic majority is preparing a State Department authorization bill of its own.

Still, the bill could signal to lawmakers how to shape the appropriations bill, a separate piece of legislation that determines where the money actually goes.

The committee’s measure mandates that security assistance be provided to Egypt, Yemen, Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority only if the Obama adminstration certified that no members of terrorist organizations or their sympathizers were serving in their governments. That was aimed at Islamist groups such as the Palestinian organization Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah — which have political power but are on the U.S. terrorism list — and the Muslim Brotherhood, which is expected to do well in Egypt’s upcoming elections. It is not considered a terrorist group.

The bill would also hold up security and civilian aid to Pakistan unless the Obama administration certified that Pakistan was making progress on fighting terrorism.

The legislation “puts that government on notice . . . that they will be held to account if they continue to refuse to cooperate with our efforts to eliminate the nuclear black market, destroy the remaining elements of Osama Bin Laden’s network, and vigorously pursue our counterterrorism objectives,” said committee chairman Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.).

The administration has argued that the aid is critical to building Pakistan’s civilian institutions and to battling the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

During a marathon committee session that stretched into the night, House members approved amendments that cut Washington’s contribution to the United Nations by 25 percent, and eliminated the $48.5 million in U.S. dues to the Organization of American States. That group brings together Western Hemisphere governments to address political turmoil and poverty.

Rep. Howard L. Berman (Calif)., the committee’s senior Democrat, blasted the bill as having a “Fortress America” tone, with such measures as reimposing a cap on funds for U.N. peacekeeping forces.

Berman said the legislation reflected the decline of a “bipartisan center” that existed in the House in the past, in which “some of the more conservative people, they wouldn’t have thought of saying, ‘We should pull out of the OAS.’ ”

The OAS amendment was introduced by Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.), who said the organization had backed Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a strong critic of Washington.

Berman countered that the OAS had in fact criticized Chavez for his country’s poor human-rights record.

Among other Republican priorities, the bill also would reinstate the “Mexico City” rule, which would eliminate federal funding for any non-governmental group that offered abortion counseling overseas.

 
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