Washington Update: Changes in Congress or Business as Usual?

Many of you are on the edge of your seat with the mid-term elections only a few weeks away—Tuesday, Nov. 6. The outcome of these elections will have an effect on national, state, and local education policy and politics. Everyone is anxious to see the configuration of Congress—who is in the majority in each house. Also, there are important governor races, seven elections for Chief State School Officer, and most state legislatures are being contested.

At the state level, this is a critical election, given governors and state legislatures can redraw Congressional district lines with the 2020 census results; change education funding and related legislation; and draft education propositions and constitutional amendments for future elections that can change state funding to local school districts. Also, many local districts have school board elections. On the national level, the battle for control of the House and Senate is at stake. This translates to who has the majority on committees, chairs, and the lead on legislation.

What Could Happen?

First, one has to decide if what the polls and the pundits are predicting is correct, or not. They have been wrong in the past. With only days before Nov. 6, most indications are that the Democrats will have a majority in the House and the Republicans will keep a narrow majority in the Senate. If so, we will have a stalemate until the next Presidential election in 2020. Most likely, little will be accomplished unless there is bipartisan support for a bill. If the Democrats do take control of the Senate, then they will be in a better position to push forward their legislative agenda. And most likely President Trump will be making deals to show how successful his presidency has been.

Similarly, the fate of each state legislature is at stake as to who will control each house and the governor’s mansion. This will determine key legislative proposals and budgets over the next several years.

Changes in Congressional Leadership

We already know that House Republican leadership will change because Paul Ryan is retiring. There will be a new speaker or minority leader. This is a contentious race. Republicans also have a six-year rule for an individual to chair a specific committee for both houses. Thus, there will be some changes if they remain in the majority. McConnell will continue to lead in the Senate.

As for the Democrats, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has already stated that if they take the House majority and she becomes speaker, the ranking member in each committee will become the chair. Pelosi is being challenged for that leader position by several younger members. No such battle in the Senate.

Priorities and Agendas

Critical to addressing any priorities will be the passage of appropriation bills or a continuing resolution to prevent a government shutdown on or before Dec. 7.

The GOP’s lame duck session agenda includes:

  • Appropriations to avoid a shutdown
  • Passage of the Farm bill—includes food stamp changes
  • Package to extend expiring tax breaks
  • Criminal justice reform
  • Reauthorizing Violence Against Women Act
  • Passing the Jobs Act 3.0

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has spoken about several additional legislative priorities including:

  • Confirmation of more federal judges during the lame duck session
  • Repeal of the Affordable Care Act in 2019, if the Republicans keep a majority in the Senate
  • New trade deal with Mexico and Canada in 2019
  • Reauthorization of Higher Education Act in 2019
  • Border wall funding during lame duck and next session of Congress
  • Immigration legislation to tighten the borders.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has begun to describe the House Democrats legislative and oversight priorities if they gain the majority:

  • Campaign finance reform, lowering drug prices, protect Dreamers, and enacting background checks on gun purchases
  • Scrutinize activities and policies via oversight of the Department of Education in such areas as student loan rules and practices, accountability of accrediting agencies, protections for victims of sexual misconduct on campuses, conflicts of interest of department staff, and other civil rights regulations.
  • Tighten oversight by House committees, especially on controversial policy and regulatory decisions.
  • Reauthorize the Higher Education Act
  • Focus on border security but not funding the wall
  • Oversight of the President’s tax returns
  • Infrastructure funding
  • Immigration reform including family separation policy
  • Affordable student loans.

A Problem: A climbing national debt

  • National debt now stands at $21 trillion and counting
  • The Federal deficit grew to $779 billion, which is an increase of $117 billion or 17 per cent, and is projected to approach $1 trillion in 2019.

See the full story here.

There will be significant changes and battles in the 116th Congress no matter who maintains or gains the majority in each house. We will just have to wait and see.

Sadly, the 2020 Presidential race has already begun and we have not finished the mid-term elections. The President has already raised over $100 million for his re-election campaign, if he runs. For the Democrats, they just keep getting more people interested in running. It is too early for anyone to rise to the top.

We do know it will be an interesting two years. Can we survive them without additional divisions and controversy?

About the Author

Fritz Edelstein is a principal in Public Private Action. His work focuses on strategic government and constituent relations, business development strategy, advocacy research and policy analysis, strategic planning and resource development, and advocacy, outreach and public engagement. This work includes producing Fritzwire, the education Internet newsletter providing timely information on education and related issues. To subscribe, write [email protected].