The Midterm Elections’ Impact on U.S. Development Policy

By now it is old news- in the 112th Congress, the House will turn from a Democratic to a Republican majority.  Committee leadership and composition will change, with implications for U.S. policy in many areas. 

What will this change in leadership mean for development?  There are two committees where the change will matter most for U.S. development and foreign aid policy- the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC), and the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations.  Congressman Berman will now be the ranking member (or minority leader) of HFAC, and Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen will step up to be the committee chair.  As chair of HFAC, Congressman Berman introduced legislation on foreign aid reform, HR 2139, and began to rewrite the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961.  As ranking member of the committee, he could still rewrite this bill and introduce it in the House, but it would be up to the new chair to allow it to come to a vote in HFAC.

In Foreign Policy’s blog The Cable, Josh Rogin provides a profile of the new chairwoman, stating that, “[s]he isn’t likely to move Berman’s foreign-aid reform bill through the committee and she is likely to seek cuts in the foreign-aid budget in her authorization bill.”  Josh Rogin also reports in The Cable that Texas Congresswoman Kay Granger is seeking to chair the Foreign-Ops Subcommittee, and he notes that while she supported this year’s foreign-ops appropriation bill, she criticized the budget increase given our domestic economic concerns.

Other blogs are somewhat more cautiously optimistic about the future of development policy and foreign aid reform, such as the Center for Global Development: Views from the Center.  In this blog, Sarah Jane Staats writes that some good could come out of forcing the administration to work more closely with Congress, though funding will be tight.  She also wisely points out that development is not all about money, and the administration might find other ways to work with Congress on development issues, such as through making U.S. trade policy more effective for development.  President Obama could reach out to newly-elected Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), former U.S. Trade Representative under the Bush administration, on this issue.  (Greater policy coherence between trade and development also happens to be one of Global Washington’s policy recommendations on global development, so we would be interested in seeing this happen.)

And MFAN (the modernizing foreign assistance network) writes that the newly elected members of Congress can find common ground in reforming foreign aid, which is largely considered a bipartisan issue.  We need to continue to remind the new House majority party of this fact.  All it should take is a glance across the Capitol, where Senators Kerry and Lugar, the Democratic and Republican leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, have worked together on foreign aid reform through S 1524,  the Foreign Assistance Revitalization and Accountability Act of 2009.