Senator Proposes Diverting Pakistan Aid to Infrastructure Here at Home

Rand Paul's bill would redirect more than $1.28 billion in aid away from a foreign land and over to the Highway Trust Fund in America

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) introduced legislation Wednesday that would marry two priorities of President Donald Trump — an “America First” foreign policy and his desire to rebuild America’s roads and bridges.

The bill could cut off foreign aid to Pakistan and direct the money to the U.S. Highway Trust Fund. The programs — $1.28 billion from the State Department and $852 million from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) — equal more than $2.1 billion a year.

“We fail our responsibilities to protect our country and properly steward taxpayers’ hard-earned money when we support countries that chant ‘Death to America’ and burn our flag,” Sen. Paul said in a statement.

“Let’s bring that money home and use it to help rebuild our infrastructure instead of giving it to a nation that persecutes Christians and imprisons people such as the doctor that helped us get Osama bin Laden.”

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Paul’s office said a bipartisan pair in the House of Representatives — Reps. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) and Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) — would co-sponsor the bill in the lower chamber.

Trump frequently has complained — both on the campaign trail and since taking office — that America spends too much money on foreign aid and too little on the needs at home. He has suggested America could have rebuilt the country several times over for all of the money spent on wars and reconstruction projects in the Middle East over the past two decades.

Paul’s bill would fall far short of producing the kind of revenue necessary to fulfill Trump’s ambitions for a giant infrastructure campaign. The $2.1 billion spent on Pakistan is a proverbial drop in the bucket. The Highway Trust Fund in fiscal year 2017, for instance, collected $40.9 billion in revenue.

“Cutting aid to Pakistan is something that is long overdue. We have not gotten the kind of results we were expecting when we gave it.”

In his campaign book, “Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again,” Trump called for a $1 trillion rebuilding program. During a meeting with mayors on Wednesday in the White House East Room, Trump said his infrastructure program likely would generate $1.7 trillion in investment.

But hawkish foreign policy experts said eliminating aid to Pakistan is good policy in and of itself.

“Cutting aid to Pakistan is something that is long overdue,” said Kyle Shideler, director of the threat assessment office at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Security Policy. “We have not gotten the kind of results we were expecting when we gave it.”

Shideler said Pakistan has been duplicitous in its dealings with the U.S. and has continued to “play footsie” with extremist terrorist organizations.

Shideler acknowledged redirecting the money to American construction projects will not fund a comprehensive infrastructure program, but said it still would help.

“It’s real money,” he said. “And it’s worth freezing [aid to Pakistan] not because we want to build a bridge in Middle America. It’s worth freezing because of Pakistan’s behavior.”

Trump himself backed Paul’s idea when the senator floated it earlier this month.

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“Good idea Rand!” the president tweeted.

The Trump administration already has taken steps against Pakistan over its failure to crack down on terrorist networks. Administration officials said they would suspend nearly all security aid to the country — as much as $1.3 billion a year. The move followed a Trump tweet accusing Pakistan of “nothing but lies & deceit” and providing “safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan.”

Officials at the time indicated the freeze could be lifted if Pakistan reversed course and cut off contact with militants and reassigned intelligence officers with links to extremists.

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But Paul’s bill would make the change permanent and expand its scope. It is not the first time the senator has tried to block aid to Pakistan. In 2012, he attempted to limit aid unless Pakistan released Dr. Shakil Afridi, the imprisoned physician who helped the United States find 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden.

Later that year, Paul tried to strike $4 billion in aid to Pakistan, Egypt and Libya, proposing that half go toward a jobs program for U.S. military veterans and half toward reducing the deficit.

And in 2016, Paul got a vote in the Senate to stop the $700 million sale of F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan. Twenty-three other senators voted with Paul, short of what was necessary to block the sale.

PoliZette senior writer Brendan Kirby can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter.

(photo credit, homepage and article images: Rand Paul [1], [2], CC BY-SA 2.0, by Gage Skidmore)