WASHINGTON -- A House panel on Wednesday pushed ahead on a bill to block U.S. assistance to Pakistan, Egypt, Lebanon, Yemen and the Palestinian Authority unless the Obama administration reassures Congress that they are cooperating in the war on terrorism.
The Republican-drafted measure was a direct challenge to President Barack Obama as members of the GOP majority sought to limit his foreign policy authority, slash U.S. contributions to international organizations and reverse policies on abortion. Overall, the bill would cut $6.4 billion from Obama's request of $51 billion for the State Department and foreign operations in the next budget.
Frustrated with Pakistan's effort in the terror war, the bill would bar civilian and security aid to Islamabad unless the secretary of state can certify to Congress that it is pursuing terrorists and helping the U.S. investigate how Osama bin Laden managed to live unscathed deep inside Pakistan.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairwoman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said the intent was to put Pakistan "on notice that it is no longer business as usual and 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.
"I think the prospect of a cutoff of assistance will get their attention and that the games being played with our security will finally stop," said the Florida Republican.
The panel's top Democrat, Rep. Howard Berman of California, said the U.S. should get tough with Pakistan, but the bill's approach was short-sighted.
"The key to long-term stability in Pakistan, and the only way we'll ever get Pakistan to change its behavior, is by strengthening its civilian institutions -- not weakening them as this bill will do," Berman said.
While the GOP-controlled House is likely to back the bill, it has little chance in the Democratic-led Senate. In fact, Congress has not passed an authorization bill in almost a decade.