Midterm Election Impact: What the Thumpin' Means for Global Development

November 13, 2006
President Bush called last week’s midterm election results “a thumpin’” as the Democrats took control of both the House and the Senate. Since then, Republicans and Democrats have been promising to work in a “bipartisan way for all Americans.” But what does it mean for global development that the Republicans hold the presidency while the Democrats control the House and Senate?According to recent CGD research by Markus Goldstein and CGD senior fellow Todd Moss, the relative priority of aid to Africa is the same under Republican or Democratic presidents, but more importantly their results show:
The relationship between the president and Congress is what matters: when both are controlled by the same party, aid to Africa is higher; when it is split, aid is lower--both in terms of absolute flows and as a percent of total aid.
If history is any guide then, we might expect U.S. aid flows to ebb in the next two years. Combined with rhetoric about reigning in federal spending amidst spiraling Iraq war costs, it is not hard to imagine a flat-lining of foreign aid budgets, including the Millennium Challenge Account and other presidential aid initiatives.But the amount of foreign assistance is only one piece of the global development puzzle. How aid is delivered and corresponding implementation systems are likely to have a greater effect on development outcomes than are overall aid flows. With the presidency and Congress held by opposing parties, there is also greater potential for increased scrutiny of where and how we spend our development dollars, and of other policies such as trade and migration that have a significant impact on global development and poverty.As the parties jockey for committee assignments and settle into their new roles, I suggest keeping a close eye on what the new split-power configuration will mean for:
  • Aid: The potential for decreases in foreign aid spending is high, but so is the opportunity for increased scrutiny and with it, improvement in current assistance programs. Efforts to better define and coordinate U.S. foreign assistance under the new Office of the Director of Foreign Assistance also have potential to transform allocation and inform discussions of our foreign aid priorities. Notably, foreign aid is not on the Democrats' agenda for the first 100 hours in office and there is some legitimate concern that it will take a back seat to Iraq and domestic economy issues.
  • Trade: Change in U.S. trade policies is expected. A thorough review of free trade agreements has been added to the Democrats' agenda for the first 100 hours. The president’s power to negotiate trade agreements without congressional amendments (known as “fast-track authority”) is up for renewal in July 2007 which is expected to spur discussions of “fair trade” including labor and environmental protections in trade agreements. These debates could make it tougher for developing countries that want to expand their U.S. market access. And discussions pertaining to the farm bill will provide another opportunity to address how rich country support for development-friendly trade policy can reduce global poverty.
  • Migration: Many see the election results as a rebuttal against incumbents who took a hard-line approach to migration issues and are now touting “comprehensive immigration legislation” that would include a guest-worker program, some sort of legalization for workers illegally in the U.S. and a tougher enforcement system. At the Center for Global Development, we’ll be looking to bring solid evidence about the impact of labor mobility on global development to the U.S. migration policy debate thorough our new initiative on migration and development.
What do you think the thumpin' will mean for global development?


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.