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Legislative / Policy Update

House Floor. The House returns to session on Tuesday. Although it’s not on the official schedule yet, the House could consider legislation that would extend expired tax breaks and make technical corrections to the 2017 tax bill. Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady could introduce the bill today.

Senate Floor. The Senate is in session this week and will continue to vote on nominations, including the new director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Key Dates:

  • Nov. 27 – A runoff election in Mississippi will help determine the ratios for Senate committees in the 116th Congress. If Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith wins, as expected, the overall ratio will be 53 Republicans to 47 Democrats. If Democrat Mike Espy prevails, the split will be 52-48. Given that the current divide is 51-49, Republicans now hold a one-seat majority on all Senate committees. Should Democrats end up with 47 seats, they will likely have to relinquish committee seats. The committee ratios will be negotiated by the Republican and Democratic Senate leaders, Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer.
  • Nov. 28 – House Democrats will caucus to choose their leaders and their nominee for Speaker of the House. A new Speaker will be elected in January by a vote of the full House. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi continues to build support for her bid to regain the Speakership now that Democrats will be in the majority.
  • Nov. 30 – The most recent extension of the nation’s flood insurance program expires Nov. 30. While the House has passed legislation to reform the program and extend it until Sept. 30, 2022, the Senate has yet to act. Another extension is likely.
  • Nov. 30 – The U.S.–Mexico-Canada Agreement will be signed Friday in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Whether it will be signed by the leaders of the three countries or their economic ministers remains to be seen. The three countries continue to hold talks on whether the Sec. 232 tariffs the U.S. imposed on steel and aluminum imports should continue to apply to Canada and Mexico. (One option that the U.S. is considering is lifting the tariffs but imposing quotas.) If there is no resolution by Friday, there is speculation that Canada and Mexico would prefer that their economic ministers, not their Prime Minister and President, sign the USMCA.
  • Dec. 7 – Twelve appropriations bills fund the federal government, and five of those have been enacted for FY 2019. Lawmakers would like to complete action on the remaining seven by Dec. 7, when the current continuing resolution expires. How these seven will be handled is unclear. One option is to pass two separate “minibuses,” with the first bill funding Environment, Interior, and Related Agencies; Financial Services; Transportation/HUD; and Agriculture/FDA, and the second measure funding Homeland Security; State and Foreign Operations; and Commerce/Justice/Science. The second option would be to lump all seven into one bill. The biggest sticking point is how much should be expended on a border wall. The House and President Trump want at least $5 billion; the Senate, where 60 votes are needed for approval, is OK with $1.6 billion for “pedestrian fencing.” No one would be surprised if lawmakers need to pass a one-week continuing resolution to continue negotiations beyond Dec. 7.
  • Dec. 13/14 – The House is looking to adjourn for the year on Dec. 13, with the Senate leaving town the following day. Before then, action is needed on legislation to reauthorize agriculture and nutrition assistance programs. Both the House and Senate passed five-year reauthorizations in June, but negotiators were unable to forge a compromise before Sept. 30, when the 2014 farm bill expired. If an agreement is not reached before Congress adjourns, a short-term extension will be needed and lawmakers will have to start over in 2019 with new legislation.

Elections Update

Big Picture. The House currently stands at 233 Democrats and 200 Republicans, with two races yet to be called. Democrats have flipped 41 House seats and Republicans have flipped three, leaving the Democrats with a net pickup of 38 seats. Over the weekend, Republican Rep. Mia Love (UT-4) lost her seat by 688 votes and Republican Rep. Rob Woodall (GA-7) was able to retain his seat for a fifth term by just 419 votes.

New York has the only two remaining uncalled contests in the House. Votes must be certified with the New York State Board of Elections by Monday, Dec. 3. Republican Rep. Claudia Tenney (NY-22) is losing in the votes that have been counted so far to Democrat Anthony Brindisi and it is believed that there are not enough absentee ballots left to be counted for Tenney to overcome her 4,000 vote deficit. Oneida County expects to finish their ballot counting Nov. 27 and certify Brindisi as the winner. Republican Rep. Chris Collins (NY-27) still holds a small lead (about 2,500 votes), with up to 10,000 absentee ballots likely closing the gap in the coming days.

The Nov. 27 runoff in Mississippi between Republican incumbent Cindy Hyde-Smith and Democrat Mike Espy in a race to fill the remaining two years of retired Senator Thad Cochran’s term is heating up. Hyde-Smith’s recent comments have drawn national attention to the race with Democrats hoping to pull off another Doug Jones type upset in the South.

Factoid #1. Of voters who did not vote in 2016 (8% of the voters in 2018) or did not vote for either Clinton or Trump in 2016 (8% of the voters in 2018), most ended up voting for Democrats in 2018. 54% of voters who voted for someone other than Clinton or Trump voted for Democrats in 2018, while 70% of those who did not vote at all in 2016 voted for Democrats in 2018. Read more on the exit polls here.

Factoid #2. It wasn’t “the economy, stupid” that was the leading concern for voters this cycle. For the first time in a decade, voters did not name the economy as their number one issue. Instead, health care was at the top of the list.

For a live tracker of the key races from 2018 please check out PSW’s tracker linked here.

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