In a thoroughly unsurprising vote yesterday, the Senate overwhelmingly rejected an amendment put forward by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., that would have redirected more than $1 billion in military aid that the U.S. currently sends to Egypt. Instead, Paul suggested that the money be used to rebuild infrastructure here in America ( bridges, in particular).
"We have bridges crumbling at home–can't we fix some of our problems?" Paul asked. "American aid doesn't go to the Egyptian people – it goes to the despots and dictators that run the place." Just 12 Republican senators supported Paul, a few of whom surely did so for political, not ideological reasons.
But while the "foreign aid for infrastructure" swap is a bit gimmicky, Paul is right on the merits of his proposal (which is not something I say about him all that often), for two reasons. First, cutting off military aid to nations whose leaders were put in place via coup is, quite simply, the law. Ali Gharib has a good take on this at the Daily Beast:
U.S. public law 112-74, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, contains a provision renewed every year for decades that bars aid to any government in which a democratically elected leader was unseated by a military coup. The law halts aid to "the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup d'état or decree or, after the date of enactment of this Act, a coup d'état or decree in which the military plays a decisive role." No matter what one makes of Mohammed Morsi, or the authoritarian power-grabbing he did as president, what happened in Egypt clearly fits that description. … Just disregarding laws you see as inconvenient not only contravenes the democratic value of rule of law, but sets a poor precedent for nations around the globe, including Egypt.
But even if that weren't the case, aid to Egypt isn't buying the U.S. much of anything. Elected officials across the political spectrum argue that cutting off aid to the Egyptian military will reduce U.S. "leverage." But the military that has been the recipient of all the past taxpayer largesse the U.S. has sent still did not hesitate to overthrow Egypt's first democratically elected leader – as odious a leader as he turned out to be – and the U.S. hasn't had a ton of success preventing that same military from massacring scores of Egyptians in the streets since the coup, despite repeated White House pleas for restraint. Is this really leverage in any actual sense of the word?
And while Paul's sudden concern for American infrastructure reeks of political opportunism, he's not wrong about bridges in the U.S. crumbling. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, one in nine U.S. bridges is structurally deficient. In Kentucky alone, nearly 23 percent of the bridges are considered functionally obsolete. It would take nearly $8 billion more in annual funding to eliminate the nation's deficient bridge backlog by 2028. Paul has had ample opportunity to support more infrastructure spending that the Obama administration has proposed in the past, and he failed to do so, but that's no reason to spurn his current offer.
Paul, of course, has extremist views on a host of issues, including his disastrous economic plan, which includes a flat tax that would assuredly raise taxes on the middle class; his proposal to entirely eliminate investment and estate taxes would entrench and exacerbate U.S. income inequality forever. But like the proverbial stopped clock, he is right about aid to Egypt. There's no reason for the U.S. to spend billions there for so few results, when the money could be put to much better use here at home.
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