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How Egypt Changes The Politics of Foreign Aid

Of all the cuts conservatives want to make in government spending, foreign aid should be the easiest—at least politically. After all, most voters seem to have a wildly inflated view of how much we actually give to other countries (it's a microscopic slice of the overall budget), and the aid itself tends to be unpopular. Except every now and again a big foreign crisis comes up—tumultuous protests in Egypt, say—and suddenly that aid no longer seems quite so abstract or dispensable.

Earlier today, in a scrum with reporters, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) chastised a proposal by the Republican Study Committee in the House to eliminate $250 million in economic assistance to Egypt. "All I would say to my colleagues is that we live in a dangerous world, and foreign aid is in our national security interests," he said. "There are people in my party, in the Senate, who are talking about eliminating aid to the state of Israel—over my dead body!" (He's referring to Rand Paul's proposal to zero out aid to Israel—not surprisingly, Democrats are already pouncing on that.)

Graham went on to make a forceful case for foreign aid—the protests in Egypt, he suggested, were caused by a mix of "oppressive governance with a bad economy," and added that "Jordan is economically disadvantaged, so I worry about this moving to Jordan." What's more, he argued, the Egyptian army was a bulwark against radicalism in the country: "If you cut that aid, you'll be cutting your own throat."

If anything, Graham seemed to be making a case for more assistance to strategic allies (for a brief second, he mused that providing aid to a repressive dictator may have some downsides, but then stopped himself: "The fact that we provided aid to the military is not something we should be ashamed of"). Granted, he's going further than many of his Republican colleagues, but even House Republicans are sounding a little more circumspect. Earlier today, Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX), who chairs the House appropriations subcommittee that deals with the State Department, said, "While there are calls for eliminating Egypt's economic and military aid, I urge caution in deciding what the U.S. response will be." At the very least, Republican proposals to cut State Department funding by one-third suddenly seem like a much tougher sell.