The conservatives’ rage over the Middle East tragedies spilled over into the Senate, where Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) threatened to hold up the CR until he got a vote on denying U.S. assistance to Pakistan, Egypt, Libya and any other country in which U.S. diplomatic facilities are attacked, trespassed on or breached. While Paul’s separate bill eventually got just 10 votes, it held up the final vote on the CR until the wee hours of Sept. 22, after running through the hoops to invoke cloture. Not surprisingly, at 2 a.m., debate on the CR was perfunctory: Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye (D- Hawaii), the lone speaker, uttered just four sentences, the third of which was: “This is an inefficient way to fund our federal government, but it is better than shutting it down next week.” The bill passed 62-30, with only 12 Republicans voting for it and one Democrat voting against.
The issue of aid to Egypt resurfaced one week later. On Sept. 28, while the House was in a pro forma session, the administration sent a letter to Congress indicating its intention to transfer $450 million in cash assistance to the government of Egypt pending a 15-day notice-and-wait period required by statute. The letter was referred to the Appropriations committees.
Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), chairwoman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, promptly issued a statement saying that, with the U.S.-Egypt relationship under such intense scrutiny, she was not convinced of the urgent need for the aid. Consequently, she said, she was placing a “hold” on the funds.
A House subcommittee chairman’s hold has no legal standing in House rules or law. However, Granger’s gauntlet was an effective ploy: it got the administration’s attention and a promise of further “conversations.” Although the earlier branch on the tracks did not derail the CR, the first branch’s watchful eye on the purse strings does make a difference.
Don Wolfensberger is a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center, a resident scholar with the Bipartisan Policy Center, and former staff director of the House Rules Committee.