Senate lawmakers sent a clear message Wednesday that they have no plans to cut taxpayer assistance for Egypt in the wake of the military coup against the elected government of President Mohammed Morsi.
The 86-13 vote saw 33 Republicans join with Democrats in defeating Sen. Rand Paul's push to block more foreign assistance to Egypt until the Middle Eastern power holds another round of elections.
Mr. Paul, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and widely seen as a possible 2016 presidential candidate, said the Foreign Assistance Act bars taxpayer money — in this case about $1.5 billion annually — from being sent to "any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by a military coup or decree."
"The law states unequivocally that the aid must end," Mr. Paul said, accusing the president and "his cohorts" in Congress of responding to the military coup by shoveling good money after bad into the Egyptian "failed state."
"The president is intent on building nations abroad and not taking care of our nation here at home," the Kentucky Republican said. "We have bridges crumbling at home. Can't we fix some of our problems at home?"
The message, though, did not resonate on the floor of the Senate, where Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and five Republicans picked apart Mr. Paul's proposal and defended the White House's decision to keep the foreign assistance flowing into Egypt after the July 3 military coup.
"If the largest country in the Arab world, Egypt, becomes a failed state, I promise you it will affect our national security interests for decades to come," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican. "It will be a nightmare for Israel and it would take the whole region down a path that would be at best chaotic."
Opponents of the Paul amendment called it premature and said abandoning Egypt at this time would diminish U.S. standing in the Middle East, allow Russia to expand its influence in the region and add to the insecurity in the Sinai peninsula, potentially creating problems for Israel.
The Obama administration has refused to weigh in on whether the coup in Egypt is in fact a military coup — allowing it to skirt the issue of whether the U.S. is legally bound to halt assistance to the nation's transitional government.
"Only a fool or a demagogue would attempt to argue that the military junta in Egypt is not a coup," Mr. Paul said on the floor of the Senate on Wednesday. "It is brazen and open flouting of the law."
Mr. Paul's argument is part of his broader push to convince the Republican Party to rethink the way it sees the nation's role in the world.
This year he has rolled out a budget blueprint, called a "Clear Vision to Revitalize America" that called for foreign assistance to be chopped down from about $50 billion to $5 billion a year. Even before Wednesday's vote on Egypt, he had pushed a bill to bar the sale or lease of F-16 aircraft, M-1 tanks and other military equipment to Egypt.
The budget died on an 81-18 vote, while the push to bar that aid to Egypt lost on a 79-19 vote, thanks in large part to Republican resistance.
Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, spoke first and set the tone early by saying that as a conservative he could not support Mr. Paul's push to cut Egypt funding.
"If you have any feelings at all for our good friends, our best friends in the Middle East, that's Israel, then you can't consider this amendment," he said, noting that Egypt has been an ally since it signed the 1979 peace treaty with Israel, and said that "if we turn our backs on the military now, there are others that would love to fill that vacuum."
Sen. Marco Rubio, one of Mr. Paul's possible rivals for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, urged Congress to slap new conditions on the Egyptian assistance that promote a secular democratic government that provides security so the economy can grow and protects religious minorities. "If you eliminate aid completely, you lose leverage," Mr. Rubio said.
And Sen. John McCain said it would be a "terrific mistake for the U.S. to send a message to Egypt, 'You are on your own.'"
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