Week of November 12-16, 2018

Congress is now in recess for the Thanksgiving holiday. They will return on November 26, and our next legislative report will be on Friday, November 30.

  • Democrats to Take Control in the House
  • Outgoing Congress Reconvenes in “Lame Duck” Session for Unfinished Business

Democrats to Take Control in the House

The 2018 election swept in a new group of more than 50 new members, most of them Democrats, as the U.S. House of Representatives changes from Republican to Democratic control in January when the new Congress convenes. The new members bring greater numbers of women members, as well as greater diversity. Some elections are still being decided, but as we go to press, Democrats so far have picked up 37 seats in the House of Representatives, with several races still undecided so the number may grow larger. That brings the current balance of power tally to 231 Democratic-held seats and 199 Republican seats. The Senate remains in Republican control with 52 Republicans and 47 Democrats, but the race in Mississippi has not yet been decided. Mississippi will hold a runoff election on November 27.

In the House, Democracy Reform is expected to take center stage in the new Congress, and the first legislative vote in January is expected to be on a bill intended to establish nationwide automatic voter registration, revitalizing the Voting Rights Act and shifting redistricting from state legislatures to independent commissions, among other measures. Other top priorities are expected to include addressing rising costs of health care and prescription drugs, and investing in infrastructure. The House is also poised to conduct aggressive oversight of the Trump administration and federal agencies and departments in accordance with their constitutional oversight authority.

Outgoing Congress Reconvenes in “Lame Duck” Session for Unfinished Business

This week, Congress reconvened after the 2018 elections in what is known as a “lame duck” session where the members of the outgoing 115th Congress have the goal of completing action on unfinished business before the end of the year. The new 116th Congress, with all the newly elected members of Congress, will convene on January 3, 2019. The main order of business for the outgoing Congress is to finish action on the 2017 spending bills before the current temporary spending extension expires on December 7. So far, Congress has passed just five of the 12 annual spending bills. President Trump may further complicate the budget talks over his continuing stance that $5 billion be provided for funding a border wall and talk of a possible partial government shutdown. Other possible items for action will be to reach a final agreement on a farm bill package. The House and Senate have passed different versions, including a House bill with new onerous work requirements for the SNAP program and that harmfully lifts merit staffing requirements for state employees conducting SNAP eligibility determinations. AFSCME continues to work against the harsh changes in the House bill. The lame duck session may also deal with the reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program that expires on Nov. 30, as well as possible recommendations from a joint select committee meeting to discuss financial challenges for multiemployer pensions.

House and Senate Democrats and Republicans are also holding leadership elections and organizing for next year. Already, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) was elected House minority leader in a closed-door meeting of House Republicans, leaving him in position to lead House GOP members after Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) retires at the end of his term in January. By a vote of 159-43 McCarthy defeated Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), the co-founder of the conservative Freedom Caucus. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), the current number three House Republican, was elected to the minority whip. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) was elected to Republican conference chair. House Democrats are expected to vote on their leaders on November 28. Democratic leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is running to regain the position of Speaker. Current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) are expected to be re-elected to their current posts.

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