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Congress and the Politics of Foreign Aid Open Access

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Foreign aid has become a fundamental component of the international affairs budget and an essential instrument of U.S. foreign policy. Consequently, the last two decades have seen a surge of research investigating American foreign aid policy. Still, few studies have focused on Congress's role in foreign aid or have sought to determine why legislators support foreign assistance. As a result, political scientists have not answered the question: Why do members of Congress support measures to extend foreign aid? Similarly, they have yet to explain the variation over time in Congress's willingness to support foreign aid. In this dissertation, I develop a framework to understand the conditions under which foreign aid bills pass, and why legislators vote for them. I argue that we lack a theory of legislative decision making on foreign assistance. Although scholars have studied foreign aid at the international level, and decision making is one of the more theoretically developed areas within the field of legislative behavior, very little research has been done to connect these two fields. In this dissertation, I make that connection. I draw from theories of legislative decision making to explain variation over time in the willingness of Congress and its members to support foreign aid.In a two-part empirical study, I find that partisan forces shape Congress's decision making on foreign aid, while legislators' ideology and party commitments affect how they vote on foreign aid bills. I also find evidence that foreign-born constituencies in members' states and districts also shape their votes on foreign aid. These findings suggest that some of the forces scholars have argued affect Congress's decision making regarding domestic policies also influence foreign aid decision making. They also affirm the importance of domestic and individual factors in foreign policy decision making.

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