Washington: The Senate roundly rejected a proposal on Wednesday to redirect aid for Egypt into bridge-building projects in the US after a potential Republican presidential candidate and conservative tea party favourite challenged the Obama administration`s refusal to label the ouster of Egypt`s president a military coup.
Senator Rand Paul amendment to next year`s transportation bill would have halted the USD 1.5 billion in mainly military assistance the US provides Egypt each year.
He cited the US law banning most forms of support for countries that suffer a military "coup", a determination the administration has said it won`t make about the Egyptian Army`s July 03 ouster of the Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.
And he invoked US infrastructure shortcomings as well as Detroit`s bankruptcy and Chicago`s violence to make his case for the money to be put back into the domestic economy.
"Our nation`s bridges are crumbling," said Paul, who has previously failed in attempts to cut US support programs for Egypt, Libya and Pakistan. "I propose that we take the billion dollars that is now being illegally given to Egypt and spend it at home."
The Senate voted 86-13 against the measure, the first to be proposed in either chamber of Congress since the Army arrested Morsi, suspended the Constitution and cracked down on the Muslim Brotherhood.
A series of deadly protests have taken place since in what was once Washington`s strongest ally in the Muslim world, but which has faced near constant turmoil since the revolution that toppled dictator Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
The vote laid bare a stark division among Republicans, pitting libertarians like Paul against hawks such as Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who plan to visit Egypt next week at President Barack Obama`s request to press for new elections.
They were joined by Senators Bob Corker and Jim Inhofe, the top Republicans on the Senate`s foreign relations and armed services committees, in speaking out against the amendment.
"It`s important that we send a message to Egypt that we`re not abandoning them," McCain said. Right now, Egypt is "descending into chaos. It`s going to be a threat to the United States."
Senator Marco Rubio, a potential rival of Paul`s for the Republican ticket in 2016, sought middle ground by urging Egypt`s aid to be restructured to better serve US interests.