Senate committee cuts Pakistan aid

By Donna Cassata

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, May 24 2012 9:53 p.m. MDT

A Pakistani man selling cold drinks pushes his bicycle between oil tankers, which were used to transport NATO fuel supplies to Afghanistan, in a compound in Karachi, Pakistan, Thursday, May 24, 2012. (AP Photo/Fareed Khan)

Associated Press

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WASHINGTON — A Senate panel expressed its outrage Thursday over Pakistan's conviction of a doctor who helped the United States track down Osama bin Laden, voting to cut aid to Islamabad by $33 million — $1 million for every year of the physician's 33-year sentence for high treason.

The punitive move came on top of deep reductions the Appropriations Committee already had made to President Barack Obama's budget request for Pakistan, a reflection of the growing congressional anger over its cooperation in combatting terrorism. The overall foreign aid budget for next year had slashed more than half of the proposed assistance and threatened further reductions if Islamabad failed to open overland supply routes to U.S.-led NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Pushing aside any diplomatic talk, Republicans and Democrats criticized Pakistan a day after the conviction in Pakistan of Shakil Afridi. The doctor ran a vaccination program for the CIA to collect DNA and verify bin Laden's presence at the compound in Abbottabad where U.S. commandos found and killed the al-Qaida leader in May 2011.

"We need Pakistan, Pakistan needs us, but we don't need Pakistan double-dealing and not seeing the justice in bringing Osama bin Laden to an end," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who pushed for the additional cut in aid.

He called Pakistan "a schizophrenic ally," helping the United States at one turn, but then aiding the Haqqani network which has claimed responsibility for several attacks on Americans. The group also has ties to al-Qaida and the Taliban.

"It's Alice in Wonderland at best," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. "If this is cooperation, I'd hate like hell to see opposition."

One of the most forceful statements came from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who also serves as the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. She pointed out that Pakistan has suffered at the hands of terrorists yet misconstrued what is treason in convicting Afridi. She also insisted that Afridi was not a spy.

"This conviction says to me that al-Qaida is viewed by the court to be Pakistan," said Feinstein, who said it made her rethink U.S. assistance.

The Appropriations Committee approved Graham's amendment to cut the assistance by $33 million on a 30-0 vote. The full Senate will vote on the overall bill, possibly this summer.

Both GOP, Democrats college loan plans killed

The Senate has rejected Democratic and Republican plans for averting a doubling of interest rates on federal college loans for 7.4 million students.

The election-season standoff means efforts to resolve the dispute will be delayed until next month. Beginning July 1, interest rates for subsidized Stafford loans for undergraduates would double to 6.8 percent without congressional action.

Preventing that increase has been a priority for President Barack Obama.

Senators voted 62-34 against the GOP proposal and 51-43 for the Democratic bill on Thursday, with each falling well-shy of the 60 votes needed for approval of the $6 billion measures.

The Republican measure was paid for by eliminating a preventive health program created by Obama. Democrats would boost payroll taxes on owners of some private companies.

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