In what The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart dubbed a “complete shellacking” at the hands of the Republican party, the 2014 midterm election results have shifted the balance of power in the Senate into a conservative majority for the first time in eight years. In the days since the midterms, political pundits aligned with a vast array of ideologies have voiced predictably vehement opinions on the varying salvation or disaster that this change marks for the American people.
While the new Senate will affect change in a wide variety of issues domestically, one begins to wonder how the new Republican majority Senate, in tandem with the Republican-led House of Representatives, will direct foreign policy in the coming years. Although the 2014 midterm election’s impact on U.S. foreign aid policy remains to be seen, there are three main questions that will be worth keeping in mind once the balance of power shifts in January.
1. Who is Mitch McConnell?
He was the Minority Leader of the Senate since 2007, but the now both the House and the Senate are united behind the 72-year-old Senator from Kentucky. Historically, new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) has a mixed record on foreign aid issues. On the positive side, Sen. McConnell, as far back as 1998, has supported the International Monetary Fund, which promotes global economic stability and poverty reduction efforts in 188 member countries.
Back in 1999, however, Sen. McConnell was with a slim majority of House members who voted to cap foreign aid at a slim $12 billion. The bill, H.R. 2606, was vetoed by sitting President Bill Clinton with a stern warning reading, in part, “this bill suggests we should meet threats to our security with our military might alone. That is a dangerous proposition. For if we underfund our diplomacy, we will end up overusing our military.”
More recently, Sen. McConnell has followed the fiscally conservative path taken with bill H.R. 2606, and has pushed for military involvement over foreign aid, supporting increased military presence in the Middle East and escalating efforts to fight ISIS.
2. Better Odds for S. 1271?
Introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), S. 1271 is known as the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act of 2013. If this bill were to pass, it would direct the President to “establish guidelines for the establishment of measurable goals, performance metrics, and monitoring and evaluation plans for U.S. foreign assistance programs.” S. 1271 would be a good news for ensuring that the intended U.S. foreign aid dollars go to the globally impoverished.
This particular bill may receive new attention as a Republican majority seeks to unite behind a well-intended and fiscally responsible cause. That attention, in turn, has the potential to make a difference in the lives of the poor.
3. Military Force or Foreign Aid?
With President Clinton’s warning seeming to gain new relevance by the day, questions continue to arise as to the best use of resources for foreign policy. With the 2015 budget reflecting an overwhelming priority on military spending over foreign aid, the change to a Republican-led Congress offers little promise of a change in direction.
Perhaps the change in leadership could be used as an occasion for a sustained effort of contacting politicians in states like McConnell’s Kentucky or Sen. John McCain’s Arizona. Politicians track phone calls and emails from their constituents and they take note of an informed populace’s opinions on policy issues. The outlook for increased foreign aid may look bleak going into a change in leadership, but public opinion will always have power to affect change.
How will you make your voice heard in favor of increased foreign aid?
– Casey Hobbs
Sources: IMF, On the Issues, GovTrack, International Policy Digest, International Business Times, NBC