Senate Egypt bill could ease US aid after coup

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The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to introduce an Egypt aid bill Wednesday that if passed could set a precedent for loosening current restrictions on US assistance to post-coup countries, Congressional sources tell Al-Monitor.

Sen. Robert Menendez  (D-NJ), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is expected to introduce the bill, called the Egypt Assistance Reform Act of 2013, at a SFRC business meeting or Wednesday.  The bill is listed as the first item on the published agenda  for the committee meeting.

A senior US administration official, speaking not for attribution Tuesday, said the bill is expected to pass, but it isn’t clear that Menendez has a vehicle to bring it to the floor before the end of the week, after which Congress is expected to go on break. The real test will be the continuing resolution or the omnibus in early January, the official said.

The bill, while geared to Egypt, could have wider implications for US defense/security and economic assistance to post coup countries universally, one Congressional staffer, speaking not for attribution, said. If passed, it would virtually eliminate the restrictions of Section 7008, which currently prevents aid to post coup countries, by offering a framework for a waiver, which could be renewed. The Congressional staffer suggested the Obama White House had been closely involved in drafting the text of the legislation with the SFRC.

“We are continuing to work with the Congress to ensure we obtain the funding and authorities necessary to provide assistance for Egypt, consistent with the approach we outlined earlier this year,” Bernadette Meehan, spokesperson for the National Security Council, told Al-Monitor Wednesday.

A spokesman for the SFRC majority staff contacted by Al-Monitor Tuesday evening said he may not be able to get guidance on the matter before Wednesday.  A spokesman for ranking SFRC Republican Bob Corker of Tennessee could not immediately be reached Tuesday.

The proposed bill would provide “the administration a legislative roadmap forward for U.S. assistance to continue to Egypt despite current legal restrictions on aid to countries where a military coup d’état has taken place,” a summary of the draft bill provided to Al-Monitor states.

“Though a number of requirements for continuing assistance under the waiver are specified, the bill removes standing legislative restrictions on U.S. assistance in cases of military coups and sets a potentially dangerous precedent for ad-hoc legislative waivers to be obtained by the administration in the future, should it desire,” the summary continues.

Under the proposed legislation, the “Secretary of States could waive such an aid suspension for 180 days after consultation and upon providing Congress a detailed justification and report which certifies ‘that providing such assistance is in the vital national security interests of the United States’ and that the government “is committed to restoring democratic governance and due process of law, and is taking demonstrable steps toward holding free and fair elections in a reasonable time frame,’” the summary states. “The waiver could be extended by additional 180-day periods following the same process.”

Update: The Egypt Assistance Reform Act passed in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday, with only one Senator, Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), voting against, committee sources said.