With the midterm elections over, we now have a clearer picture of what the 116th Congress will look like. But a lot of questions remain unanswered.
The most pressing question is whether members and President Trump can agree on a spending bill to avoid a partial government shutdown after Dec. 21. Washington will vote on a two–week bill before the original shutdown deadline of Dec. 7, to avoid partisan wrangling during the mourning of President George H. W. Bush’s death. However, President Trump still appears insistent that any longer-term deal include $5 billion to build a southern border wall. That’s a demand that Democrats largely do not support, so the shutdown issue remains far from over.
Another pressing issue is whether Democrats will return California Rep. Nancy Pelosi as House speaker and can she -- or any speaker -- unify a caucus with so many new members elected on campaign promises to shake up the establishment.
Among the other closely-watched issues facing the new Congress are: Will members finally strike an infrastructure deal, address top midterm-voter concerns about health care and ratify President Trump’s new trade pact with Canada and Mexico, which replaces the 24-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement? Also, what’s next for trade and tariffs?
A meeting this past weekend between President Trump and China President Xi Jinping resulted in the U.S. agreeing to delay 25 percent tariffs next month on $200 billion in Chinese imports. But the deal gives negotiators only until March 1 to reach a final agreement that must address contentious issues like trade imbalances.
On trade, Canada, Mexico and the U.S. agreed this fall to a deal to replace NAFTA. But it still must be ratified by Congress. And though members seem eager to restore some stability to the U.S. economy, Democrats have already raised concerns about the deal needing stronger labor standards.
House Democrats have already voted to return Pelosi as House speaker. But the final floor vote won’t come until the new Congress returns in early January. Pelosi is ultimately expected to get the requisite 218 votes. But the final count should be close, considering she cannot afford to lose the support of 17 members of her caucus, and at least 15 still remain opposed to her bid to again become speaker.
Pelosi’s bigger challenge might be whether she can get legislation passed with her narrow 235-to-200 majority and drive an agenda focused on middle-class prosperity, amid the caucus’ liberal wing calls to hold investigative hearings on the Trump administration and pass expensive legislation like Medicare for All.
Major legislation rarely gets passed in the lame duck session, and this one is shaping up to be no different, with the possible exception of Republicans passing five minor or “technical” corrections to the 2017 tax law.
Stay tuned and buckle your seat belts because 2019 is going to be a wild ride.
Mary Moore Hamrick
National Managing Principal, Public Policy
T +1 202 521 1545