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Congressional polarization and limitation riders in foreign aid appropriations

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Critics often accuse Congress of abdicating its constitutional authority in foreign policy. One source of evidence of congressional abdication is the relative lack of legislation authorizing foreign aid and other foreign policy tools. Because of recent gridlock, Congress now authorizes foreign policy the only way it can: in annual appropriations bills. I argue that this change in legislative strategy does not necessarily reflect an abdication by Congress. Instead, an increase in party polarization, which leads to the perceived abdication of foreign policy, simply shifts Congress’s legislating abilities to “limitation riders,” or legislative provisions written into appropriations bills. I find that an increase in polarization increases Congress’s use of these riders. I also find that polarization has encouraged Congress to use limitation riders in new ways. While foreign aid-related limitation riders once only consisted of contract and budget-related issues, they now comprise a wide variety of foreign and domestic policy issues. Congressional reliance on limitation riders has increased due to polarization and has consequences for foreign policy.

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  2. Krutz and Patterson (2001). See also Lee (2015) for more on the policy consequences of polarization.

  3. Jeong and Bendix (2020), Hassell and Kernell (2016), MacDonald (2013, 2010).

  4. Dietrich et al. (2018), Allen and Flynn (2018), Brech and Potrafke (2014).

  5. For a more qualitative breakdown of the content of the limitation riders, see the discussion in the "Qualitative analysis" Section later in the paper. Also, Appendix lists unique summaries of each of the provisions.

  6. This fits with existing descriptions of foreign aid as a policy that “suits the congressional character, always at its most skilled and comfortable with using budgetary decisions as a means of policy control” (Hinckley 1994, page 102).

  7. See rider summaries in Appendix for details on country specifications.


  9. Ronald Reagan instituted the policy in 1984, and Bill Clinton rescinded it in 1993.




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The author thanks Gordon Friedrichs, Gyung-Ho Jeong, James Scott, Jordan Tama, and participants of the Heidelberg University Workshop on Domestic Polarization and U.S. Foreign Policy for helpful comments and Meredith Kahan for valuable research assistance.

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Correspondence to Shannon P. Carcelli.

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Appendix: list of rider summaries

Appendix: list of rider summaries

List of General Provision Summaries in Foreign Operations Bills, 1970–1994

Continued availability

No Flood Control

contracts are public

Contracts are public

No late distribution

Engineering/architectural fees

No late distributions

No funds timber

Fiscal year

Bilateral funding

Unobligated balances

Military pensions

No funds oil


Residence expenses

No contract w/o termination option

Non citizens compensation

No lobbying


No contracts w/o termination option

No China UN

NO China UN

No UN Dues

No UN dues

Fiscal year appropriations


Representation expenses

No Investment Incentive Fund Program

Race/religion equality in US

Fund provisions

POW expense

Public buildings and grounds

Abortion litigation

No funds intl financial institutions

bilateral funding

No nuclear goods

Cap on Funds

Fund Provisions

residence expense budget

Construction fees

Small business promotion

Growth capital

no funding certain countries

US Procurement

Construction in Underdeveloped Countries

No Funds Vietnam

No Funds Vietnam


US foreign currency

Entertainment budget

National forest


reprogramming funds

Military coups

Iron/Steel Vietnam

No Angola Military Assistance

No nuclear fund

Representation allowances

Mount Baker-Snoqualmie

National defense spending

no transfers between accounts

Reporting requirement

No funding foreign politics

Entertainment expense fund

Intl development fund

No funding human rights violation

commodity business

Committee approval

Nuclear equipment

Obligation authority

Waive Israeli Loans

Representation allowances

Trainee programs

No funding oppressive countries

Government employees

No transportation funding

Human rights

Availability of funds

Contract approval

No funds w/o approval

Conditional assistance

No Funds Vietnam Police

Military entertainment expense fund

No aid human rights violations

Appropriation committee approval

No fund Mozambique

Acquiring more land

Vessel availability and reimbursement

Personnel compensation

No funding certain countries


Timing of funding

Appropriations approval

Residence funding

No funds: Mozambique or Angola

No funds to 9 countries

revised statutes


commerce and trade

Inspector General

No funds: Mozambique



Loxahatchee hunting

surplus commodities

Agriculture loans

Appropriation committee approval

Default countries

Aircraft contract

Research and development

Obligation authority

Notification of requirements

No North Vietnam

US rep intl funds

Grizzly bears

Indirect cost rates

international organization fund

Revolving funds

No United Arab Republic

Financial institution mgmt rep

Countries in default

Vessel transfer

Phasing out conservation

Israeli aid

No Indonesia

No Vietnam

obligated funds

North Dakota conservation

Commodity credit

No funding abortion

document all funds

Financial transparency

Geothermal leasing

Transportation and aircraft

US representation

Financial documentation

Discharging liabilities

Weapon sales

education expense


Loan representation

Commerce and trade

special notification requirement

Part 2:

Commodity competition

ROTC loyalty

Reimburse GSA

Surplus commodities

family planning fund

Budgeting rules


Oil and coal heating plants

Surplus commodity

Notification requirements

No expenses

Facility construction

Committee on appropriations

Translation services

Consulting service

Reciprocal leasing

No peace corps fund

Availability of funds

Inactive duty pay

Health and medical care

Abortion lobbying

Authorization requirement

Senate compensation

No reimbursement

Admin Salary

No foreign assistance

No abortion lobby

Household furnishing

Public affairs activities


depleted uranium

Excess defense equipment

US rep for intl funds


Reduce programs w/ end of year employment

President reports

loans to Israel

No funding terrorist countries

dept budget


Loans to Israel

UN voting record

bilateral aid terrorist countries

Enactment of legislation

No aid when human rights violation

No aid terrorism



International Bank budget

Commodity production

Military personnel

Restrict authority

ceilings and earmarks

Competitive insurance

No funds terrorism protectors

Advertising cost

extramural budget

Funds Only for this act

El Salvador aid

No selling stingers

Sec of state report to congress

OECD consultation

No funds Germany

Agriculture marketing agreement

El Salvador policy

Aircraft in Central America

Human rights standards

Working capital funds

No military aircraft

Aircraft in Central America

stockpile location

Employee budget

Disaster assistance

Guatemala resettlement

Pakistan aid

US aid

Global warming initiative

Montreal Protocol

separate accounts

Debt for development

Second career

No funds abortions

executive director compensation

Location of stockpile


Private voluntary organization

separate accounts

Medical and dental care

Auditing requirements

Private voluntary orgs

El Salvador investigation

IFI replenishments

fund reprogramming

Travel allowances

Refugee resettlement

Excess defense articles

nonemergency claims

Waiver costs

priority equipment delivery

Health program limitation

Refugee aid

Immunizations for children

No funds certain countries

Israeli drawdown

Immunizing children

No funds Ethiopia


No funds through transfer

child survival fund

Balance of funds

No funds specific countries

Child survival fund

Africa development foundation

Enlisted aids limit

US jobs

Foreign operation appropriation



US job impact

Credited dept defense programs

Inter-American development bank

Creating commodity

defense equipment drawdown

Special authorities

Senior ROTC unit

Convert position

Arab league boycott

Lodging expense

No indirect funding certain countries

Fund authorization

anti narcotics activity

Retainer pay

Fund authorization

Debt relief agreement

Anti narcotics activities

CIA funds

Liberia assistance

Reciprocal leasing

Asian development bank

Middle east scholarship


Maintenance military

Asia development bank


Congressional influence

Foreign assistance act



earmarked funds

No propaganda

Land purchase

Talks with El Salvador

oppose terrorist countries

South Africa scholarship



Middle east programs

Bilateral aid to terrorist countries

narcotics control

Use of American resources

Ejection seats

Middle east budget

commission on foreign assistance management

Turkish and Greek military

narcotics control program

Andean narcotics initiative

recover debt contracts

Unemployment benefits

Depleted Uranium

Commercially leased weapons



Haiti aid

Medical care

Weapons to Turkey and Greece

Cambodia aid

debt relief

Second career training

Panama aid

Commercially leasing weapons

competitive insurance

No UN dues

funds to Afghanistan

Ireland aid

no aid terrorism

Funds to El Salvador

no aid parking fines

Disadvantaged enterprise

PLO aid

Unused money not taken away

No flood control

Fund provisions

No propaganda

Procurement contract

Report to Committees on Appropriations

Advances of money

Vehicle replacement

Dept of agriculture

Military Pensions


Cover travel expenses

Cap on funds


No hunting fishing

No military pension

No assistance Cuba



Entertainment expenses


Approve capital project

No funds: Cambodia

Car insurance

Laos Vietnam

Resale maintenance


No Cuba

Transfers between accounts

No funds: Cambodia

Underdeveloped Countries

No personal employee

One year contracts

Foreign entity

No aid terrorist countries

Report funds

Medical care

Residence budget

Energy conservation


Afghanistan aid

childrens education

Aiding criminals and terrorists

Obligational authority

Finance loans

No communists

Cash disbursements

Residency expense fund

Program funding

Prisoner donation

No fund Ethiopia

Small business loans

Definition of program

Procurement contracts

ATB Program

Small business user fees

Military equipment transfer

Security clearances

Bosnia-Herzegovinia aid


No funding competition


Defense equipment

Military entertainment budget

and Recreation

fiscal year

El salvador notification

Assistance budget

Aid to Cambodia

Preference to allies

Purchasing Uranium

Fund approval

Reciprocal leasing

Include Laos

Bosnia-Herzogovinia aid

Construction in Underdeveloped countries

Chile loans

new facilities

Fiscal year law

No Foreign Currency

Liberian aid

countries in default

Fund transfer

No fund Ecuador

Eligibility for aid

Human rights aid

CIA fiscal year

Military coups

Debt relief agreements

Executive agency


Appropriations approval

Middle east scholarship

Appropriations committee approval


Real property

Real property management

Loan cap

Authorization requirement

aircraft operating expense

Dependents of military

Certificate of ownership

Debt relief programs

Admin expense

Disadvantaged enterprises

moving household goods

Proof of contact with foreign countries

Committees on Appropriations


Underdeveloped countries

No fund Germany

No funds w/o representation

Influence Chinese bank

Administrator of General services

General authorization

No unchecked foreign aid

Nicaragua aid

No terrorism fund

Aid for Lebanon

Department budgets

Experiment fund

Economic assistance

Narcotics control

accepting real property

Transfer schools

Commodities acquired

Armenia aid

reporting requirement

Purchase dogs

Program aid

Funds to Ireland

Treasury funds


definition of terms

Consulting services

No ISTC fund

Eligibility aid


Chemical weapon proliferation

commodity assistance

Montreal protocol

procurement fund

Loan payment


No funding abortion

family planning

Heating plants

Science and technology

Afghanistan aid

Notify executive branch

Human experiment

Reservation of funds

No funds Iraq

Records are public

Multiyear contract


Private voluntary orgs


Military drawdown

Asian petroleum

Funds El Salvador

No inspector general fund

No aid Iraq

Payne county mining


International orgs

Transportation equipment

No Uruguay assistance

No funds Ethiopia

Land acquisition


Lobby for abortion

Cash flow financing

No aid Cuba

No fund Ethiopia

Sr. reserve officers

Unused leave

Negotiating with PLO

Chile fund

Dept of defense

Uefinition of program

commercial transport

Public affairs budget

commercial leasing weapons

Oppose loans from chile

civilian clothing

37 people

Israeli economic support

Transfer of funds

no bilateral aid terrorist countries

No Funds Lebanon


Leveraging and diversion

democracy contingency fund

Farmers home administration

commercial leasing of defense articles

Environmental concern

Contract for studies


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Carcelli, S.P. Congressional polarization and limitation riders in foreign aid appropriations. Int Polit 59, 898–924 (2022).

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