U.S. lawmakers seek foreign aid changes amid Egypt crisis

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Four U.S. lawmakers introduced legislation on Wednesday that would force more public disclosure about foreign aid programs, amid debate over whether to suspend the $1.5 billion that Washington sends to Egypt each year.

The bipartisan bills introduced in the Senate and House of Representatives would require that regular evaluations of foreign assistance programs be made public, with the goal of showing taxpayers how their money is spent, and convincing them of the value of the aid.

Foreign aid represents only about one percent of the federal government’s annual budget, but can be the subject of fierce political debate.

Democrat Ben Cardin and Republican Marco Rubio, who introduced the bill in the Senate, said they had been working on the legislation for months.

The aid issue is in the spotlight because Washington gives $1.3bn in military funding and $250 million in economic assistance each year to Egypt, whose democratically elected president was ousted by the country’s military last week.

Aides to the lawmakers said the legislation was not directly tied to the situation in Egypt, although one commented that the “timing is certainly opportune.”

U.S. law bars aid to Egypt if the Obama administration deemed the ouster of President Mohamed Mursi to have been a coup, as Mursi’s supporters have charged. Egypt’s military says it toppled the former leader with the support of Egyptians and because he had failed to meet demands for national unity.

But proponents of U.S. aid to Egypt say doing so would risk damaging a country that has been an important regional ally and remove U.S. leverage over Egypt’s military.

The White House has said repeatedly that it would take time to determine whether Mursi’s overthrow was a coup.

Among other things, the bills in Congress would require biennial reports from the Government Accountability Office on different agencies’ implementation of the legislation. They also recommend that Congress take into account those reports when appropriating funds for federal agencies that administer foreign aid programs.

“Taxpayers deserve to know where their tax dollars are being spent and how effectively these investments are representing our nation’s international priorities,” Rubio said in a statement.

A similar bill was introduced in the House by Republican Representatives Ted Poe and Democrat Gerald Connolly.

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