WASHINGTON -- Lawmakers say it's an insult to the American people: The U.S. is borrowing money from China, only to give some of it back as foreign aid. And that, they say, is bolstering Chinese businesses that compete with U.S. companies in hard economic times.

A House hearing Tuesday provided a venue for Republicans to pounce on the Obama administration when wasteful spending, questionable foreign aid and U.S.-China relations are all hot issues ahead of next year's elections. But an administration official told lawmakers there is no money going to the Chinese government or Chinese companies. In fact, it helped U.S. companies trying to do business in China. The idea for the aid? That came from Congress when it was under GOP control.

Aid to China -- $275 million over 10 years -- has been approved while control of both Congress and the White House has shifted. But with the U.S. scrambling to reel in its $14.8 trillion national debt, the foreign aid budget has become a casualty. Republicans call for steeper cuts to the $21 billion budget of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Assistance to China makes up only a tiny fraction of the foreign aid total. This year's aid will be just $12 million, half that of 2010, but it's a prime target. China is the world's second-largest economy, America's main foreign creditor and blamed by both Democrats and Republicans for many of America's economic woes.

Tuesday's hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Asia subcommittee on the aid program offered plenty of red meat to China critics. All six lawmakers to speak -- five Republicans and one Democrat -- expressed incredulity that the U.S. is still providing aid to China, which they accused of persecuting its people and stealing intellectual property from U.S. companies.

Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., said U.S. foreign policy-makers are out of touch with taxpayers. He said aid should go to democracy organizations in the communist-controlled country.