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Will Bachmann cut foreign assistance to Israel?

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Rep. Michele Bachmann plans to roll out her foreign-policy approach Thursday in South Carolina, but in remarks she made earlier this week, she staked out a position that could mean ending foreign assistance to Israel, generally considered the biggest U.S. ally in the Middle East and one that most GOP candidates defend.

Speaking Monday at the Family Research Council in Washington, Mrs. Bachmann, a three-term Minnesota congresswoman, said that in 2010 the federal government funneled $1.4 billion in foreign assistance to countries “like China, Mexico, Egypt and other nations that each own at least $10 billion in U.S. Treasury bonds.”

“Giving money away for free to the nations that own our debt instruments is like giving your banker a large gift while he still holds your unpaid mortgage,” Mrs. Bachmann said, reading from prepared remarks. “I will stop such foreign aid at once. If these nations are rich enough to loan us money, they don’t need our aid, and we can’t afford it. The financial gifts we are making to China and these others will come to a screeching halt on the day I am sworn into office.”

Israel, it turns out, holds more than $18 billion of U.S. debt but is also a large recipient of U.S. foreign aid — to the tune of about $3 billion in military assistance in 2011.

If Mrs. Bachmann’s pledge covers both military and nonsecurity assistance, it would mean ending funding for Israel.

While Mrs. Bachmann often showers praise on Israel, her presidential campaign didn’t respond to several requests this week from The Washington Times that sought to clarify the comments she made in her address; namely, whether her campaign promise applies to Israel.

The State Department and USAID in 2010 spent $37 billion on foreign assistance programs in 2010, funneling money toward efforts that, among other things, aim to decrease poverty, promote democracy and strengthen international alliances. The biggest drivers of the spending went to peace and security efforts and health initiatives.

With the national deficits and debt dominating much of the political dialogue inside and outside Washington, many lawmakers are looking to find ways to curtail national spending.

Last month, Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, pushed a plan to end foreign aid to countries that hold at least $10 billion in U.S. debt. His proposal, though, excluded both military and humanitarian assistance. Mr. Coburn said the plan would result in more than $1 billion in savings this year.

Working off a May report that he requested from the Congressional Research Service, Mr. Coburn argued that 16 countries that hold at least $10 billion apiece in U.S. debt also receive assistance. The report excluded military spending, and the ensuing list of countries that fit the bill also included India, Brazil, Turkey, Russia, Poland, Taiwan, Ireland, Colombia and the Philippines.

China held more than $1.1 trillion in U.S. debt and received $27.2 million in aid. Brazil held $193.5 billion in U.S. debt and received $25 million in aid, while Russia had $127.8 billion in U.S. debt and received $71.5 million in aid. And India owned $39.8 billion and received $126.6 million.

“Borrowing money from countries who receive our aid is dangerous for both the donor and recipient,” Mr. Coburn said in a statement posted on his congressional website. “If countries can afford to buy our debt perhaps they can afford to fund assistance programs on their own. At the same time, when we borrow from countries we are supposedly helping to develop we put off hard budget choices here at home. The status quo creates co-dependency and financial risk at home and abroad.”

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