Update from Washington, D.C. 11/10/2010
In the aftermath of the Republicans’ resounding victory in last
week’s mid-term elections, members of Congress will return next
week to a Capitol Hill that will have a much different look. To
be sure, Democrats are scrambling to wrap up unfinished
legislative priorities before the new GOP House majority takes
over in January.
Washington will be abuzz with activity the week of November 15 as members of the House and Senate are expected to caucus to select their leadership teams for the upcoming 112th Congress. In addition, new members will be in town to receive their orientation and President Obama has invited top congressional leaders to the White House on November 18 to discuss plans for the lame-duck session.
Lawmakers will return home for the week of Thanksgiving and reconvene in Washington on November 29, with an adjournment target date yet to be set.
In addition to dealing with the aforementioned organizational matters, Democratic leaders in Congress are aiming to tackle a number of hot-button issues. However, time is running short as the 111th Congress is rapidly coming to a close.
Nevertheless, topping the agenda during the post-election session is the fiscal year 2011 appropriations bills and an extension of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts. Additionally, Congress is expected to wrestle with a number of other program extensions before they expire at the end of the year.
Headlining the list of unfinished legislative items during the lame-duck session will be the expected omnibus appropriations bill. Prior to adjourning for the mid-term elections, none of the 12 spending measures for fiscal year 2011 had been finalized. The funding bills are likely to be rolled into a massive omnibus spending measure, or left for the new 112th Congress to complete in January or February. Republicans may attempt to take advantage of their recent electoral gains by pushing for spending cuts in the omnibus bill. Democrats, on the other hand, may try to push their spending initiatives through before they are in the minority.
It should be noted that various interest groups will be attempting to use the omnibus spending legislation as a vehicle to advance their respective policy agendas. For their part, a number of tribal governments are seeking to overturn the Supreme Court’s Carcieri v. Salazar decision. InCarcieri, the Court held that Secretary of Interior lacks authority to take land into trust for Indian tribes that were not under federal jurisdiction at the time of the passage of the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) of 1934.
Since the Carcieri decision in February of 2009, CSAC has called upon Congress to thoughtfully re-examine the fee-to-trust process and to provide for necessary reforms. Among other things, CSAC and other states and local governments are advocating for clearly defined standards for trust land acquisitions, as well as sufficient notification requirements. CSAC also has been promoting that intergovernmental agreements should be mandated between tribes and local governments to require mitigation for adverse impacts of development projects, including environmental and economic impacts from the transfer of the land into trust.
Another issue on the front burner for Congress to grapple with is whether to extend the expiring George W. Bush-era tax cuts. The 2001 and 2003 tax cuts are scheduled to expire on December 31. The White House has made it clear to Congress that it wants to make the tax cuts permanent for individuals who earn less than $200,000, or $250,000 for married couples. Although the proposal would extend tax cuts for most Americans, the administration has faced opposition from Republicans and some moderate Democrats, who insist that the tax cuts for all income earners be extended.
Another potential item on the agenda is an extension of unemployment benefits. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and other Democrats will be pressing leadership to take up the Americans Want to Work Act (S 3706). The Stabenow bill would provide an extension of unemployment benefits, which are set to expire on November 30, as well as extend a tax break for businesses that hire unemployed workers.
At press time, it is unclear if an unemployment benefits bill will successfully make its way to President Obama for his signature before the end of the current Congress. Senator Stabenow can be expected to face strong opposition to the measure from fiscal conservatives, who will argue that offsets need to be identified to cover the bill’s cost.
Congress also will be pressed during the lame-duck session to pass yet another extension of the nation’s surface transportation law, SAFETEA-LU, which is slated to expire on December 31. Although the length of a new extension has yet to be determined, a renewal of current highway and transit programs will set the stage for the 112th Congress to begin its work on a multi-year transportation reauthorization bill early next year.
With Republicans capturing control of the House, Representative John Mica (R-FL) is in line to chair the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Immediately following the elections, Mica indicated that passage of a long-term highway and transit measure is among his top legislative priorities. According to Mica, raising taxes to pay for new infrastructure spending is “off the table” and, therefore, intends to use public-private partnerships, tap unspent federal dollars, and accelerate aid to states to fund a new surface transportation bill.
Washington is beginning to come to grips with the huge Republican sweep of the House and substantial gains in the Senate, although Democrats maintained control of the upper chamber as only two incumbent Democrats lost their bids for re-election – Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-AR).
The results for approximately nine House seats still have not been finalized. Republicans are likely to have a majority of at least 51 seats. (In the current Congress, Democrats have a 39-seat majority.) This net GOP gain of at least 67 is the biggest power shift in the House in 70 years.
Overall, the remaining House Democrats in 2011 will likely be more liberal than the current Democratic caucus. Nearly half of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition was defeated in the mid-term elections. At this point, 23 of the 46 Blue Dogs who ran for re-election lost.
As noted above, Democrats will continue to control the upper chamber, albeit with a slimmer majority. Currently, the Senate is comprised of 57 Democrats, 41 Republicans, and two Independents, who caucus with the Democratic majority. In the new 112th Congress, the Democrats will have 51 senators, the GOP 47 members, and two Independent senators who are expected to again caucus with the Democrats, giving the party a 53 to 47 edge in the Senate.
The California Congressional Delegation will have several new faces next year as at least two House newcomers will take the oath of office in January. Los Angeles Democrat Karen Bass, a former Speaker of the California Assembly, defeated Republican James Andion to succeed Rep. Diane Watson (D-CA), who represents the state’s 33rd Congressional District.
Republican Jeff Denham of Atwater, an agricultural packaging company owner and almond farmer, bested Democrat Loraine Goodwin in last week’s election. Denham will succeed Rep. George Radanovich (R-CA), who represents California’s 19th Congressional District and is retiring from the House.
At press time, two House races in California were still too close to call. Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-CA), who represents California’s 11th Congressional District, is locked in a tight battle with Republican David Harmer of San Ramon. Another undecided contest is in the state’s 20th Congressional District as Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA) is trying to hold off GOP challenger Andy Vidak of Hanford.
The current minority leader of the House, John Boehner (R-OH), is expected to be chosen by his Republican colleagues as the new Speaker of the House in the 112th Congress. Representative Eric Cantor (R-VA), the current minority whip, is likely to be selected as the new majority leader. A battle could be brewing for the other key GOP House leadership post (majority whip), as Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) may be challenged by Representative Pete Sessions (R-TX).
The presumptive House Speaker, Representative Boehner, recently expressed his main priorities for the new Congress that he is expected to lead. Topping his agenda are federal spending cuts, a reduction in the national deficit, job creation, and a repeal of the president’s health care overhaul. No doubt many of the details of his agenda will be resisted by the Democratic-controlled Senate and the Obama administration.
On the other side of the aisle, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) recently announced that she will seek to remain the Democratic leader in the lower chamber. Despite the historic drubbing taken by House Democrats, only one Democrat has expressed an interest in running against the California lawmaker. Representative Heath Shuler (D-NC), a former football player with the Washington Redskins, may oppose Pelosi’s bid for minority leader if no other Democrat steps forward.
Current House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) is likely to run for minority whip, but may be challenged by James Clyburn (D-SC), who currently serves as the majority whip.
Across the Capitol, Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), fresh off his hard-fought victory in the Silver State, is expected to remain the majority leader in the upper chamber. Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) is once again likely to be tabbed as the majority whip. For their part, Republicans will apparently stick with Mitch McConnell (R-KY) as their minority leader and Jon Kyl (R-AZ) as minority whip.
While the Senate remains in Democratic hands, the ability of Majority Leader Reid (D-NV), to achieve 60 votes to overcome a potential filibuster in 2011 will be next to impossible. No longer enjoying a 59-41 split, Reid will need the support of at least seven Republicans. It is estimated that there are not more than five Republican moderates who would seriously consider crossing the aisle.
POSSIBLE COMMITTEE CHAIRS AND ASSIGNMENTS
With regard to the new committee chairmen, as well as committee assignments, both the House and Senate will not make an official announcement until the 112th Congress convenes in January. However, it is safe to state that many, if not most, of the current ranking members of the various House committees will assume the gavels when the GOP takes control of the lower chamber. Additionally, most of the present chairmen of the Senate committees will probably continue to lead their panels in the new session, including Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee.
A brief overview of some of the other California members of Congress who may be in a position to lead their panels include Representative Jerry Lewis(R-CA), the top Republican on the House Appropriations Committee. Under GOP term-limit rules, however, Lewis would need a waiver from party leaders to become chairman because he led the panel when Republicans last controlled the House earlier in the decade.
Other California Republicans who may ascend to chairmanships are Representative David Dreier (Rules Committee), Representative Howard “Buck” McKeon (Armed Services Committee), Representative Dan Lungren (House Administration Committee), and Representative Darrell Issa (Oversight and Government Reform Committee). Additionally, at the subcommittee level, Representative Wally Herger is in line to chair the Ways and Means Committee’s Health Subcommittee. Representative Lungren, who is currently the chief Republican on the Homeland Security’s Emerging Threats, Cybersecurity, and Science and Technology Subcommittee, could chair the panel next year.