Rand Paul Pushes on Aid to Pakistan

Unusual Maneuver Could Force Vote to Block Funds Over Imprisoned Doctor

Posted July 20, 2012 at 5:05pm

Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) long-shot bid to cut off U.S. aid to Pakistan may appear quixotic, but the House is already moving in his direction.

A skeptic of foreign aid, Paul has cited the current budget deficit when criticizing giving additional money to the country.

“We’re rewarding bad behavior with more money, with more of your money, money we don’t even have,” Paul said. “We have a $1 trillion deficit and we’re giving them an extra $1 billion.”

Senate leaders have resisted repeated efforts by Paul to hold a vote on his proposal to block any foreign assistance to the country over the imprisonment of Shakil Afridi, the Pakistani doctor behind a CIA-backed vaccine clinic that was designed to gather DNA samples from people in Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Paul said Thursday that he is seeking information on why a judicial panel in Pakistan delayed Afridi’s appeal of his conviction related to the assistance he provided to the CIA. He was sentenced to 33 years in prison.

Paul announced his intention to stall Senate business in a floor speech, also pledging to push ahead with forcing a vote on his proposal this week if he does not receive a satisfactory answer to his inquiry.

“We requested this information from President [Barack] Obama’s administration, from his State Department: Will Dr. Afridi get a trial? When will the trial be? We’ve gotten no answer,” Paul said.

“If we can’t get an answer on this, if they’re going to continue to hold this man, I see no reason to send taxpayer money to Pakistan,” Paul added. “I have the votes and the ability to force a vote on this issue.”

Paul has gathered the signatures needed to file his own cloture motion to limit debate on taking up a standalone version of his Pakistani aid prohibition bill after trying unsuccessfully to attach it as an amendment to a few unrelated pieces of legislation.

The unusual move would at least give Paul his vote, if he gets recognized on the floor to make his motion.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has shown no inclination to allow Paul to get that vote at any point since Paul signaled his intent to seek it in a July 12 letter to the Senate leaders.

“We have, for example, one Republican Senator, when we are in tense negotiations with Pakistan on a lot of very sensitive issues, who wants to do something that is outside the scope of rational thinking, which holds up legislation,” Reid said last week.

Paul is responding by making life more difficult for the Nevada Democrat. Democratic aides said the Kentucky Republican would not consent to allowing an up-or-down vote to confirm Michael Shipp, a federal magistrate in New Jersey, to be a federal district judge in the state. Instead, Reid set up a Monday evening cloture vote on the nomination.

Shipp’s nomination previously faced a delay as part of a disagreement between the White House and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) about a separate judicial nominee from New Jersey, local media outlets reported at the time. Menendez initially opposed Obama’s nomination of New Jersey magistrate Patty Shwartz for a seat on the Philadelphia-based federal appeals court.

The Shipp nomination has faced minimal opposition, however. Sen. Mike Lee  (R-Utah) was the lone lawmaker registering opposition at the Senate Judiciary Committee.

In contrast to the trouble Paul is having getting his Pakistan vote, the House quickly moved to eliminate $650 million in funding for Pakistan’s counterinsurgency efforts.

Members made many of Paul’s arguments before taking the action to cut the funds from a Defense spending bill without even needing a recorded vote.

“Since 2002, Congress has already appropriated over $8 billion to the Coalition Support Fund specifically for Pakistan. Where I come from, if you try something and it doesn’t work, you don’t continue to do it. We’ve been doing the same thing for over 10 years,” amendment sponsor Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) said. “It’s time for a new strategy with Pakistan. More money is not going to solve the problem.”

The State Department on Friday avoided a specific response to a reporter’s questions about Pakistani funding.

“We continue to consult with Congress, but I don’t have any particular reaction to ongoing legislative debate. We continue to, obviously, support our Pakistani counterparts in key areas like counterterrorism, but I don’t have a particular reaction to ongoing legislative debate,” said Patrick Ventrell, a State Department spokesman.

In more difficult news for the Obama administration, frustration with Pakistan goes beyond the most conservative lawmakers.

Senate foreign operations appropriators have recommended a lower funding level for aid to Pakistan next year than had been suggested.

Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.), the House’s defense spending chief, also expressed consternation about Pakistan funding last week.

“You cannot have an ally who is an ally today but not an ally tomorrow,” Young said, “and that has been our experience with Pakistan.”