New Congress, New Threats and Opportunities
Still Counting and “Lame Duck” May Set Tone for Next Year
Click here to view the shift in power and AGC's projected changes in leadership.
The voting is over, but the counting continues. Republicans have secured a majority in the
U.S. House of Representatives and there is a smaller majority of Democrats in
the U.S. Senate. This year’s wave election may have also washed out the old
saying that “all politics is local.” The local voters were driven by national
issues like health care and spending, and were fueled by national media that
focused on party conflict.
and experience were the cause of significant losses for sitting Committee
Chairs of the Budget, Armed Services and Transportation Committees. The
conflict continued unabated when Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) issued a statement
this morning celebrating the Democratic majority for “courageous action” and
Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) issued a statement urging new members not to “fall into
The Republican majority and shrinking Democratic numbers will
alter the legislative and regulatory issues AGC members face during a lame duck
and in the future. While the change in power is clear, what exactly will come
of it is not. In the coming weeks and months, AGC will work to analyze and
interpret events in Washington, D.C., and will keep you updated on what the
changes in Congress mean in practical terms. Republicans will start the lame duck
session with 42 instead of 41 senators as a result of special elections held in
conjunction with the general election.
The 112th Congress will require bipartisanship to pass even
small issues. The tone will be set early in the Congress by the interaction
between the leaders of both parties, both chambers and the president – in fact,
it may be set during the lame duck session beginning November 15.
The lame duck agenda will include the funding for the rest of
fiscal year 2011 (nine months worth of federal funding) and the extension of
SAFETEA-LU and FAA authorization, as well as deciding how to handle the
expiring tax cuts, extension of the Medicare doc fix and extension of
unemployment benefits. It could also
include the confirmation of Jacob Lew as the new Office of Management and
Budget director. They could also vote on a bill to block the imposition of the greenhouse
gas rule and the Defense authorization.
The productivity of the lame duck will likely signal the productivity of
the 112th Congress.
The closely divided Congress will contrast with the large
majorities Democrats held after the 2008 election. Some of the new members
bring with them their own agenda and an anti-establishment mentality that could
impact how leaders in both parties try to corral votes. The outstanding
question is this: Will there be more partisanship or more bipartisanship? The
agenda will be dictated by what the lame duck does or does not accomplish.
and the Administration may be able to work together on trade issues, education
and deficit reduction. However, many members will be cognizant of the recent
voter backlash against members of Congress who had moved more toward the
The parties will elect leaders and committee chairs during
the lame duck. Click here to see a run-down on who AGC anticipates will be the
Congressional leaders in the 112th Congress.
Both Republicans and Democrats
have pledged austerity. Republicans in Congress and President Obama have put
some specifics to where they feel construction spending should be. In his FY
2011 budget, the president proposed holding spending close to $112 billion in
2011 and a three-year discretionary
funding freeze. For 2012, he has instructed departments to cut their spending
by five percent more. The Republicans have pledged to impose a hard budget cap, and hold spending at about 2008 levels (Congress
appropriated a little more than $107 billion for construction in 2008, very
close to where the Obama Administration would be with a five percent cut for 2012). The lower spending levels and the hard budget
cap envisioned by the Republicans will likely create a battle for funds in a
zero sum world. In addition, AGC envisions a significant fight among Republicans
on how to handle or how to limit earmarks. Fewer earmarks could result in
fewer votes for construction spending legislation in the future.
With President Barack Obama now halfway through his first
term, his reelection efforts start today. Leading up to Election Day this year,
he said his major priorities for the next two years were overhauling the
nation’s immigration laws, passing energy, education, transportation and
climate-change legislation, and shrinking the federal deficit. Even with both
Houses of Congress, Obama had difficulty winning approval of the health care
and financial reform bills, and he failed to pass cap and trade
legislation. His goals will now be even
more challenging. The president will need to decide if he will work with or
work against a divided Congress. President
Obama will probably continue to advance goals that do not rely as much on
Congress, such as making greater use of the executive branch’s regulatory
machinery. However, much of his agenda could be scuttled by the economy, and based
on the election results he will have to address the jobs situation before the
larger social issues.
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