Election Day on November 8 has been a date circled on the calendar for what feels like forever. From the first day of the 117th Congress on January 3, 2021, it seemed the race for the midterm elections had kicked off. Democrats focused their messaging on how to hold majority control of Congress and Republicans on how to regain leadership control. And now, here we are, with the elections upon us and at the time for assessing the impact of and planning for the next Congress.
This article went to print well before the results of the elections nationwide were expected to be known—and the crystal ball predictions of D.C. insiders and political polling have been notoriously bad for the past several elections. So, we have no clarity on what the election outcomes will be. The primary elections across the states did not show clear mandates for where voters were going into the general elections. The timing of primaries and the impact of current events and economic issues—such as gas prices, the overturning of Roe v. Wade, inflation, and the congressional passage of major legislation—appeared to sway voters more than an across-the-board approval/disapproval of the candidates themselves.
Historically, the party in control of the White House loses seats in Congress. Now, with extremely slim margins for control of both chambers of Congress, one or both chambers are likely to flip from Democratic control to Republican control. Additionally, given the large number of senior members of Congress who have died, are retiring, or are running for other offices, we know that leadership of committees with jurisdiction for key Flexible Packaging Association (FPA) legislative priorities will change. With these data points, we can begin preparing for the impact of the elections.
Before looking toward the commencement of the 118th Congress, there is still the post-election lame-duck session when Congress will return to try and resolve the remaining issues for the 117th Congress. With the late summer passage and enactment of the Inflation Reduction Act and the CHIPS (Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors) and Science Act, Democrats cleared several of their legislative priorities that many predicted would spill over to the lame-duck session. However, numerous items are still on the table.
At the top of the list will be the fiscal year 2023 budget bills. In the Senate, Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Richard Shelby, R-Ala., the Appropriation Committee’s chairman and ranking member, respectively, are retiring. As such, there is increased pressure/desire to finish their final bills before they leave Congress. If the election turns out to be a wave for the Republicans, there may be a push for another continuing resolution to keep the federal government funded into 2023 when Republicans will have more leverage on funding decisions. Conversely, Democrats will want to complete the bills as expeditiously as possible, so the final bills most closely reflect the bills drafted in 2022.
Other issues that may be addressed include tax extenders, tech regulatory packages, and trade packages. As has been the case for the past two years, all of these issues will come down to votes and a determination by each party’s leadership whether they are better positioned to advance issues in 2022 or wait until the new Congress begins in January.
118th Congress: Leadership
This is the most pivotal piece that will determine the legislative agenda of the 118th Congress. The outcomes of the elections and the margins held by the party in control will play a significant role in determining the leadership of both parties.
If Republicans sweep the elections, the current Republican leadership—Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.—is likely to stay in place for the next Congress. If margins are not decisive, the caucus could seek new leadership and may look to John Cornyn, R-Texas, or John Thune, R-S.D., on the Senate side and candidates on the House side such as Steve Scalise, R-La., or Jim Jordan, R-Ohio.
Conversely, if the Democrats keep control of one or both chambers, leadership in the Senate would likely stay the same. On the House side, the question would be whether House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., would run again. She indicated in the past that she would not seek leadership reelection. If the Democrats lose either chamber by significant margins, dramatic leadership changes are anticipated.
As mentioned earlier, we know there will be committee leadership changes that will affect oversight of issues of importance to FPA and its members. Committees to watch include:
- Appropriations (agency/department budget and policy issues). The Senate will lose both the chair and ranking member of the full committee as well as a few members of key subcommittees. The House also will have several vacancies due to retirements and those seeking other offices. Both chambers are expected to have membership changes across subcommittees.
- House Ways and Means (tax and trade issues). The most notable change is that ranking member Kevin Brady, R-Texas, is retiring.
- Senate Finance (tax, trade, and energy issues). Several retirements include Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who sponsored several recycling bills.
- House Energy and Commerce (environment/recycling). Several senior member retirements include Fred Upton, R-Mich., and Mike Doyle, D-Pa.
- Senate Commerce (environment/recycling). Changes are limited, but shifts in subcommittee assignments are anticipated.
- House Science (research and development/recycling/environment). Several vacancies are due to retirements, and those seeking other offices and competitive races.
- Senate Environment and Public Works (environment/recycling). Not a lot of changes are anticipated, but a few retirements and competitive races are expected.
Even before the dust settles on the 2022 elections and all changes are in place for the 118th Congress, we know that focus will shift to the 2024 elections and the competition for the White House. Accordingly, we know the ability of the Biden administration to move additional pieces of its policy agenda will become more challenging in 2023.