Republicans win control over Congress — and may tighten grip on US foreign aid

The U.S. Capitol as seen from the Senate wing. What could a Republican win of the U.S. Senate mean for foreign aid? Photo by: Phil Roeder / CC BY

For the first time since 2006, the Republican Party will control both chambers of the U.S. Congress, signaling an uphill battle for the Obama administration to gain support for contentious foreign policy and aid initiatives in the next two years.

Republicans won back the U.S. Senate and expanded their hold over the House of Representatives in Tuesday’s midterm elections. The party needed just six seats to regain control over the Senate and secured seven by late Tuesday evening.

What does this mean for the leadership of committees overseeing U.S. foreign aid and policy?

Not much is expected to change in the House. Republican Rep. Ed Royce of California and Democrat Rep. Eliot Engel of New York were both re-elected and are likely to stay on as chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Committee on Foreign Affairs. Similarly, both Republican Rep. Kay Granger of Texas and Democrat Rep. Nita Lowey of New York were re-elected to their posts and are expected to remain chairwoman and ranking member, respectively, of the Appropriations Subcommittee for State and Foreign Operations.

Leadership of Senate committees, however, is a different matter.

Sen. Robert Menendez, the New Jersey Democrat who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, was not up for re-election, but once the newly elected senators take their seats in January, he will have to hand over chairmanship of the committee to a Republican colleague, potentially Bob Corker, the ranking Republican from Tennessee. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who secured a comfortable victory, may assume chairmanship of the Appropriations Subcommittee for State and Foreign Operations from Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Democrat from Vermont.

It is possible, though, that other high-ranking Republicans could snatch some of these coveted leadership roles.

A number of vital questions — particularly around how and where to deliver U.S. foreign assistance effectively while responding to emerging crises and conflicts around the world — remain on the agenda for lawmakers new and old to grapple with in 2015, which is shaping up to be a pivotal year for international development goal-setting, policymaking and cooperation.

The next Congress faces looming deadlines as well.

One of the most pressing is the expiration of the African Growth and Opportunity Act; lawmakers have been working on language already to reauthorize and reboot the trade facilitation agreement between the U.S. and African countries based on some of the lessons and shortcomings of the current legislation.

Also, Congress will help to shape the U.S. government’s position on highly visible global agreements, like the climate change deal to succeed the Kyoto Protocol that may be signed at in Paris next December or the emerging post-2015 development agenda which is expected to be ratified on the fringes of the United Nations General Assembly in September.

In addition, the future of the U.S. Export-Import Bank has become even more precarious. Congress reauthorized the bank only through June 30, 2015, following months of divisive debates. A Republican-led Congress is not likely to pass long-term reauthorization, which could further erode confidence in — and within — the bank, where the bulk of U.S. commitments to Power Africa will come from.

Finally, the next Congress and its committee leaders will assume responsibility for perennial aspects of budgeting and lawmaking. Decisions about U.S. funding to multilateral organizations like the World Bank and the United Nations, the nature of U.S. engagement with a volatile Middle East and oversight of the U.S. government's aid agencies have proven to be contentious issues between the two parties — and in their relationship with the Obama administration.

Read more on U.S. aid reform online, and subscribe to The Development Newswire to receive top international development headlines from the world’s leading donors, news sources and opinion leaders — emailed to you FREE every business day.

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About the authors

  • Carlos stamaria 400x400 v2

    Carlos Santamaria

    As associate editor for breaking news, Carlos Santamaria supervises Devex's Manila-based news team and the creation of our daily newsletter. Carlos joined Devex after a decade working for international wire services Reuters, AP, Xinhua, EFE and Philippine social news network Rappler in Madrid, Beijing, Manila, New York and Bangkok. During that time, he also covered natural disasters on the ground in Myanmar and Japan.
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    Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.