The U.S. House of Representatives is poised to pass a bill providing more than $19 billion for foreign military and other assistance for the fiscal year beginning in October. House consideration of the legislation included emotional debate about aid to one country in the Middle East, Egypt.
Annual action on the foreign operations bill usually features sharp debate over how much money is provided to key countries, and this year was no exception.
An amendment, offered by Democratic Congressman Tom Lantos, proposed to turn transfer several hundred million dollars from proposed military aid for Egypt to economic aid.
Mr. Lantos pointed to what he called an unjustifiable military buildup by the Egyptian government at the expense of the economic welfare of Egyptians, and what he termed a lack of Egyptian support for the United States in the war on terror.
"When we needed Egypt's support, the powerful military, on the whole, has been AWOL [Away Without Leave]," he said. "Just imagine how politically and militarily useful would have been Egyptian police presence in Afghanistan. It still would be. The Egyptian government said, sorry it's not our fight. And that is on its best days, when it isn't viciously criticizing our policies."
A number of Democratic and Republican House lawmakers supported the Lantos amendment, but it was strongly opposed by others, including fellow Democrat David Obey.
"It is in Israel's best interest for us to maintain the best possible relationships with our friends in the Arab world that we can possibly retain, and I would point out that right now we need Egypt," he said.
Opponents said approval of the amendment would make it more difficult for Egypt to help the United States support efforts to resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
The foreign spending bill provides $2.5 billion in security and economic assistance for Israel, a slight increase from last year, and about $1.8 billion for both military and economic aid for Egypt.
The bill meets administration requests for money to train the new national army in Afghanistan, amounting to $350 million, and gives $300 million in military aid to Pakistan for help in the counter-terror effort. Poland, a U.S. ally in Iraq, receives $66 million in financial support
The U.S. program to combat AIDS receives $2.2 billion, although an amendment proposing $800 million more for the Global Fund on Aids was rejected.
There is also development and other assistance for Afghanistan, Haiti, and $300 million in emergency humanitarian aid for refugees and victims of violence in Sudan's western Darfur region.
The legislation also provides money for international narcotics efforts, and meets the Bush administration request of $731 million for the Andean Counter-Drug Initiative.
The legislation also funds the Millennium Challenge Account, a Bush administration program to provide aid to countries based on their commitment to fighting corruption and support of democratic principles.