U.S. Senators Chris Coons and Johnny Isakson. Photo by: Senate.gov

The Congressional Caucus for Effective Foreign Assistance expanded to include members of the Senate on Tuesday night. Previously drawn from the House of Representatives, the caucus welcomed two new co-chairs from the Senate, as the debate over aid spending accelerates.

Senator Johnny Isakson, a Republican from Georgia, and Senator Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware, will serve as Senate co-chairs, joining house co-chairs Rep. Adam Smith, a Democrat from Washington, and Rep. Ted Yoho, a Republican from Florida.

The caucus was launched in 2011 by Smith and former congressman Ander Crenshaw, a Republican from Florida, to help ensure that aid programs are carried out as effectively as possible and see the highest return on investment possible for U.S. taxpayer dollars.

Sen. Isakson, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations committee, is well acquainted with debates on foreign aid. He introduced a bill in the Senate last year — the Economic Growth and Development Act — aimed to provide better ways for the private sector to engage with the U.S. government on development. Coons co-sponsored the bill, which didn’t make it out of committee.

Yoho told Devex last month that he has plans to introduce a similar bill, with the same name, in the House of Representatives. The bill would require President Donald Trump to establish an interagency mechanism to help the private sector participate in U.S. development assistance programs, and will recommend that aid be directed in a way that strengthens civic institutions in countries and provides for public accountability, he said at the time.

Yoho, Smith and Coons were at an event on Tuesday, organized by the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network and the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, where the expansion of the caucus was announced. (Isakson, who recently underwent back surgery, could not attend.)

Coons, who called Isakson his best friend in the Senate, said they both share a “common commitment to sustain U.S. engagement in the world.” He pointed to aid more broadly as evidence of how bipartisan and bicameral cooperation are possible — for example, through last year’s passage of the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act.

While aid is only 1 percent of the budget, legislators have an obligation to make sure it’s effective through legislation and through setting performance metrics, he said.

Coons then quipped that he’s recommended that the advocacy group ONE launch a campaign to slash U.S. spending on foreign aid to 1 percent, playing on the belief of many Americans that it makes up more than 20 percent of the budget.

Coons outlined several priorities for aid reform — including reviewing investments — in a process similar to what the United Kingdom has done. These are: evaluating effectiveness and the return on investment; creating a new development finance institution; providing targeted assistance to fragile states and making it possible for the Millennium Challenge Corporation to make regional compacts.

Yoho — who earlier in the day met with Bill Gates and discussed the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and its impacts not just on HIV rates but also on reducing crime rates — talked about his journey to deciding aid was important and his desire to ensure that it is effectively spent, transparent and accountable.

Yoho said he got flack last year from fellow members of Congress for his support of the Electrify Africa Act and the Global Food Security Act. But he talked to other members about how such programs could help end aid dependency and change the paradigm from aid to trade.

“We can be the catalyst,” he said.

Stay tuned to Devex for more news and analysis of what the Trump administration means for global development. Read more coverage here and subscribe to The Development Newswire.

About the author

  • Adva Saldinger

    Adva Saldinger is an Associate Editor at Devex, where she covers the intersection of business and international development, as well as U.S. foreign aid policy. From partnerships to trade and social entrepreneurship to impact investing, Adva explores the role the private sector and private capital play in development. A journalist with more than 10 years of experience, she has worked at several newspapers in the U.S. and lived in both Ghana and South Africa.