WASHINGTON — The Obama administration's plan to transfer $450 million in cash to Egypt hit a roadblock Friday as a top House committee chairwoman blocked the move, saying it warrants further review.
Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, said the State Department had notified Congress of plans to move the money to the new government of President Mohammed Morsi as Cairo struggles economically. The money is part of the nearly $1 billion in debt relief that President Barack Obama had promised Egypt earlier this year.
"This proposal comes to Congress at a point when the U.S.-Egypt relationship has never been under more scrutiny, and rightly so," the chairwoman of the Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations said in a statement. "I am not convinced of the urgent need for this assistance and I cannot support it at this time. ... I have placed a hold on these funds."
The relationship between the United States and Egypt has been rocky since the overthrow of U.S. ally President Hosni Mubarak last year. The Egyptian government angered Washington when it cracked down on numerous democracy advocates and groups, including three U.S.-funded nongovernmental organizations, earlier this year.
More recently, demonstrators breached the U.S. Embassy in Cairo to protest an anti-Islam video, and some in Congress have called for cutting off aid. The United States provides Egypt with $1.55 billion annually – $250 million in economic aid and $1.3 billion in military aid.
The cash transfer would have come from money that had already been appropriated.
A senior State Department official said the United States remains committed to a democratic transition in Egypt and still sees support for economic growth as a vital way to protect peace and security. The official said the administration would work with Congress in the next days and weeks to make the case that the budget is in U.S. interests.
The official was not authorized to speak publicly about the ongoing negotiations and discussed the situation on condition of anonymity.
Last December, Congress made foreign assistance to Egypt, including the military financing, contingent on a determination that the government "is supporting the transition to civilian government including holding free and fair elections; implementing policies to protect freedom of expression, association and religion and due process of law."
Associated Press writer Matthew Lee in New York contributed to this report.
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In this Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012, file photo, Egyptian protesters carry their national flag and a flag with Arabic that reads "No God but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet," and chant anti U.S. slogans during a demonstration in front of the U.S. embassy in Cairo, Egypt, as part of widespread anger across the Muslim world about a film ridiculing Islam's Prophet Muhammad. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)
Egyptian protesters react from the tear gas during clashes near the U.S. embassy in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
An Egyptian protester stands next to a national flag during clashes near the U.S. embassy in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
Egyptian protesters throw stones next to a burning police car during clashes near the U.S. embassy in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
Egyptian riot police throw stones at protesters during clashes near the U.S. embassy in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
An Egyptian protester rests during clashes near the U.S. embassy in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
An Egyptian protester throws a tear gas canister toward riot police during clashes near the U.S. embassy in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)