A US Congress panel on Thursday rejected a proposal to cut off all aid to Pakistan due to concerns over the country’s relationship with Islamic militants after the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee easily rejected the measure, with five lawmakers voting yes and 39 voting no. But the bill in its current form would still impose tighter controls over aid, making it contingent on measurable progress by Pakistan.
Representative Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican from California, had offered the amendment to a spending bill for the fiscal year starting in October that would have barred any US funds to provide assistance to Pakistan.
Rohrabacher raised questions about how Pakistan was using assistance from the United States at a time that Washington is seeking to curb spending to tame a ballooning debt.
“We can no longer afford this foolishness,” Rohrabacher said as he introduced a defunding measure in May.
“The time has come for us to stop subsidizing those who actively oppose us. Pakistan has shown itself not to be America’s ally,” he said.
President Barack Obama’s administration recently suspended about one-third of its $2.7 billion annual defense aid to Pakistan. But it has assured Islamabad it is committed to a five-year, $7.5 billion civilian package approved in 2009 that aims to build schools, infrastructure and democratic institutions.
The rival Republican Party controls the House and has drafted a measure, which remains in the spending bill, that would also cut off civilian aid unless Pakistan is certified to be fighting Islamic militants.
But even if the full passes through the committee, the measure’s prospects are uncertain. Obama’s Democratic Party controls the Senate, where Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry is a staunch advocate of civilian support to Pakistan.
Democratic lawmakers argue that civilian aid is crucial in the long-run to strengthen democratic institutions and raise educational levels in Pakistan in hopes of reducing the appeal of Islamic extremists.
Representative Howard Berman, the top Democrat on the committee and a main author of the 2009 bill, said that changes in Pakistan will come by “strengthening its civilian institutions — not weakening them.”
The House Foreign Affairs Committee is pursuing a range of Republican priorities through its spending package, in which it aims to cut $6.4 billion from Obama’s budget requests.
The committee worked well past midnight after an all-day session on Wednesday in which lawmakers voted to end all US assistance for five Latin American nations with leftist leaders.
In one controversial measure, the bill would ban funding to any foreign non-governmental group that “promotes or performs abortion” except in cases of rape, incest or health risks to the expectant mother.
Representative Chris Smith, a Republican and staunch foe of abortion, said that the measure was needed to combat a “culture of death” which he said that the Obama administration has promoted.
Several Democrats denounced the measure, saying that the US government already banned funding to perform abortions and that the measure amounted to a “gag rule” against any group that mentioned abortion.
The Republican-led committee defeated an attempt to remove the measure on a 25-17 vote.