By Elise Labott
The Senate is readying a proposal that aims to restore U.S. aid to Egypt, some of which was frozen after last year's ouster of President Mohamed Morsy, two Obama administration officials told CNN.
A provision that gives the White House flexibility to effectively eliminate restrictions on military and other assistance to countries facing a coup could be introduced as part of a spending bill as early as Monday.
The measure that would offer executive branch waivers to get around existing restrictions in law, in certain cases, was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in December, but has not yet been considered by the full chamber.
The Obama administration has never labeled Morsy's removal from office a coup. But it froze some aid to Egypt last October following Morsy's ouster by the military and the subsequent crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood.
Aid totals $1.5 billion a year, $1.3 billion of which goes to the Egyptian military. The rest is economic assistance, some of which goes to the government and some goes to other groups.
The administration officials and congressional staffers supporting the bill said it struck the right balance between pushing Cairo to embrace democratic reforms and maintaining the U.S. commitment to Egypt.
Officials said the administration helped draft the language that was sponsored by Foreign Relations Chairman Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey, and ranking member Bob Corker, R-Tennessee.
American aid to Egypt is viewed as necessary for national security - primarily the relationship with Israel and the growing influence of al-Qaeda linked extremists in the Sinai.
While the bill is written with Egypt in mind, it could have wider implications for U.S. policy that bans aid to countries where a democratically elected head of state is removed in a coup or by the military.
By providing the administration with waivers to sidestep restrictions on aid, it sets a precedent for U.S. aid to any country after a coup.
Menendez has said suspending aid to Egypt did not serve the interests of Washington or Cairo given the scale and the strategic significance of the annual outlay to the longstanding Mideast ally.
Moreover, there was concern the aid cutoff could cost U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars due to contract defaults of military equipment earmarked for Egypt.
Under the proposal, the Egyptian government must meet certain security and economic assistance benchmarks, like adhering to the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty, cooperating on counter terrorism, and taking steps to consolidate its democratic transition.
This includes an upcoming constitutional referendum and subsequent presidential elections.
In the future, it would require the Secretary of State to determine whether a coup took place and advise Congress of that decision.
It allows the President to grant a waiver on aid restrictions for 180 days with another 180-day renewable period by arguing such a step is vital to U.S. national security interests and that the Egyptian government is committed to restoring democracy and the rule of law and fighting terrorism.