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Sarah Jane StaatsWhat does the new makeup of Congress mean for global development looking forward? My guest this week is Sarah Jane Staats, director of policy outreach here at the Center for Global Development. Sarah Jane is responsible for engaging the development policy community—especially senior staff in the U.S. Congress, the administration and policy experts in leading development advocacy NGOs—in the Center’s research and other programs.

In this Wonkcast, Sarah Jane starts by explaining that, “the first big takeaway with the elections is that they were really not about foreign policy.” Because domestic issues drove the rhetoric of the candidates this election cycle, even the foreign policy positions of some freshman Congressmen are still unknown. Thirty-nine of the sixty new House Republicans align themselves with the Tea Party, a group with no clear foreign policy agenda, much less a unified view about whether and how to engage developing countries.

Republican control of the House of Representatives will require the White House to work and negotiate with Congress to move policy. While a bipartisan legislative process would be an overall plus, Sarah Jane says she’s mindful of work by Todd Moss and Markus Goldstein (see updated calculations for the recent election here) that shows that aid budgets generally fall during periods of divided government.

As she wrote the morning after Election Day, “given the general mandate of the 112th Congress to rein in government spending and deal with the growing deficit, the entire federal budget–foreign assistance and development certainly included–will be under enormous pressure and likely see cuts.” But she also explains that aid is about more than money; how rich countries design their aid programs is as important as how much they give. The hope, she says, is that making existing aid spending more effective is an idea that can find bipartisan support.

While compromise may be a scarce commodity overall, Sarah Jane pointed to trade as an area where the next Congress could make more progress than it has it the past two years and demonstrate that U.S. development policy is about more than just aid policies. However, Sarah Jane added that we should not expect to see much progress on wedge issues like climate and migration.

Listen to the Wonkcast to hear the full interview. Have something to add to the discussion? Ideas for future interviews? Post a comment below. If you use iTunes, you can subscribe to get new episodes delivered straight to your computer every week.

My thanks to Wren Elhai for his very able production assistance on the Wonkcast recording and to Robin Comisar for drafting this blog post.