Partisan Politics and Foreign Aid

With the midterm election just a week away, we are beginning to see the challenges of a new, partisan environment–particularly for foreign assistance spending and programs.  Just yesterday, minority whip Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) called for cutting funds to countries who don’t share US interests, with the exception of Israel. In his interview with the Jewish Telegraph Agency, Cantor pressed this decision might mean rejecting the State and Foreign Operations bill altogether.  State and Foreign Operations appropriations subcommittee chairwoman Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) responded in force, saying in a statement: “The foreign aid bill funds U.S. diplomatic efforts at the State Department, including diplomacy related to peace in the Middle East.  It aids other countries in the region to help defeat al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations and includes non-proliferation initiatives. In addition, the bill addresses moral imperatives that are also destabilizing factors, like hunger, poverty, and disease, which too often create a fertile environment for terror recruitment.”

Including Cantor, Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin has created a list of ten Republicans who could play an influential role post elections in affecting the implementation of the Obama administration’s foreign policy agenda. See below for Rogin’s complete list of top GOP actors, with excerpts:

Eric CantorRep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) – “Cantor, who is particularly active on foreign-policy issues involving Iran and Israel, could see his role expand significantly if he is given the power to set the House floor agenda and therefore determine which bills are considered, in what form, and when. That could spell trouble for the administration’s foreign operations budget, which funds the State Department and sets levels for U.S. non-military assistance around the world.”Jon Kyl

Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) – “Kyl has also been involved in the ongoing GOP effort to hold up the confirmation of several nominees for ambassadorships, such as Robert Ford and Frank Ricciardone. Increased GOP numbers could force the administration to take more seriously Kyl’s demands for more access to State Department communications and more explicit statements on the administration’s foreign-policy positions if it wants to see these ambassadors confirmed.”

Jim DeMintSenator Jim DeMint (R-SC) – “Most incoming Tea Party candidates don’t focus on foreign policy, but many will owe allegiance to DeMint because he has been filling their campaign coffers. They could be inclined to follow suit with his unilateralist, militaristic worldview, which many see as based on his neoconservative ideology rather than a realistic pursuit of U.S. interests in multipolar world order.”John McCain

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) – “But more broadly, he is poised to lead the Republican opposition to Obama’s attempts to significantly reduce the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, starting in July 2011…In short, he could close off the Senate Armed Services Committee as a reliable tool through which the White House could execute its foreign-policy aims.”

HONDURAS/Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) – “If Republicans take the House, Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) is poised to take over the House Foreign Affairs Committee and could drastically alter the committee’s agenda and priorities…Her ascendancy could also spell doom for Berman’s bill on foreign-aid reform. She argues often for more vetting of foreign aid in the hope of finding cuts, and she has also introduced legislation to cut U.S. funding for the United Nations and the Palestinian Authority.”Richard Lugar

Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) – “The ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Lugar will see his foreign-policy role increase not because he stands opposed to the Obama administration’s policies, but rather because he will be needed to defend them…His ability to serve as a bridge between the administration and the increasingly conservative Republican rank-and-file will be crucial as the White House continues to push its foreign-policy agenda next year. Another scarce GOP Senate ally for the administration will be Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) who, like Lugar, supports new START and robust foreign-aid budgets.”

Kay GrangerRep. Kay Granger (R-TX) – “Although not certain, it’s likely that Granger, a Texas Republican, would take over the chairmanship of the House Appropriations subcommittee for State Department and foreign operations if the GOP wins the House. That would give her a large role in writing significant sections of the State Department’s funding bill. Although she supported the bill put forth this year by current chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), she criticized the increases for the foreign-ops budget, saying, “We also face the continued concern in our own country about our economy and the devastating effects of skyrocketing deficits and debt.” She’s a strong supporter of a balanced budget amendment, which doesn’t bode well for foreign-aid funding in this dismal fiscal environment…Granger is also on board with efforts to eliminate aid to countries that are not performing on internal reform, as she explained when expressing opposition to funding of the Senegalese government through the State Department’s Millennium Challenge Corporation. “We can’t just give out money and say we will put up with whatever you are doing,” she said.”Thad Cochran

Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS) – “There’s no budget resolution for fiscal 2011 and there’s no assurance that State and foreign ops funding will be completed during this congressional session, so Cochran and the new subcommittee members he chooses will be in the position to either defend or attack the version of the bill that’s already on the table…New subcommittee members will have less experience with this funding so will be in a less advantageous position to defend it in the near term. And, after February, they will already face the job of vetting the administration’s foreign-ops funding request for 2012, which is when big debates over foreign-aid funding, the civilian role in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the role of the U.S. government in international fora will all come to a head.”

Olympia SnoweSenator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) – “Snowe is being courted heavily by the administration to make the difference on several other issues facing the Senate, including lifting the military’s ban on openly gay service members and New START, which she has not yet indicated whether she will support. If Snowe gets the committee chairmanship, she will be one lawmaker that both Democratic and Republican leadership will be eager to woo.”Ed Royce

Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) – “Royce is symbolic of Republican House members who are active on foreign policy and could change the tone of the foreign-policy discussion if the GOP takes over the House. He very well could become chairman again of the House Foreign Affairs Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade Subcommittee, where his staff could hold hearings on the Middle East, Africa, the war on terror, Afghanistan, and any other region sensitive to the administration’s national security goals.”

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