One of the most scrutinized election seasons in American political history finally concluded last night, and its immediate implications for upcoming legislation and policy direction cannot be understated. The political establishment has been put on notice that long-simmering issues such as immigration policy, the national debt, trade, size-of-government, and wage disparity, to name a few, must be addressed in a different and more urgent manner. Few recognized the depth and breadth of unrest within the electorate.
Of note, as relates to doing business with the US government customer, the process by which funds flow to departments and agencies remains the same.Knowing how, when and where to address needs, requirements, resourcing, budgets, appropriations and contracting remains unchanged by the election results.
Despite losing some seats, Republicans have maintained their majority in the House. The challenge in the coming legislative days for Speaker Paul Ryan will be to ensure that there is, in fact, a governing majority that can pass legislation. With a highly charged freedom caucus still firmly in place on the right, achieving the necessary 218 votes to pass legislation will routinely require significant Democratic support. Overall, expect to see a continued trend of difficult votes and special procedural maneuvers used on each side to achieve certain gains.
Control of the Senate remained in question until the final moments of this election cycle. Similarly to the presidential race, there were several key contests that made the race especially interesting: New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Missouri, North Carolina and Florida.The razor thin margin by which Republicans have maintained control (51 – 47, with Louisiana holding a run-off on December 10th and New Hampshire Democrat Hassan leading at the time of this post) will assure that new policies will not simply be steam-rolled through Congress. In recent years, while in the minority, Democrats have successfully stalled or prevented passage of bills on demand. Working through this complex dynamic will require significant political skill.
The Lame Duck Session
Congress will return to the Hill on November 14th with a difficult laundry list facing them. Look for appropriations issues to dominate the headlines well into December.
To date, the VA/MilCon appropriation is only one of 12 FY17 spending bills to be enacted – it provided the legislative vehicle for the Continuing Resolution (CR). The CR will expire on December 9th, putting pressure on the remaining bills. With 11 appropriations bills left to complete in just 16 scheduled legislative days, an omnibus appropriations bill that rolls multiple spending bills into one is the most likely outcome. Recall that Speaker Ryan ran for his Speakership on a platform that vowed to avoid such giant spending deals because of their typically unclear final negotiations.
Further complicating the budget dialogue is the Department of Defense and its role in the process thus far. The DoD has raised the specter of requesting a much larger “supplemental” appropriation in addition to the present FY17 bills under consideration. Many had expected a request of approximately $3 billion to forward in March 2017. The DoD has recently signaled a request closer to $6 billion, and has pushed up the timeline to before March. They have sent mixed signals as to exactly what needs this supplemental funding would address. DoD Comptroller Mike McCord says that need is $6 billion, whereas Secretary of Defense Carter contradicts his subordinate by suggesting the final figure is “not settled.” Chairman McCain says any supplemental funding shouldn’t be allocated solely for war funding, but must be used for the “total force” in order to address readiness and personal needs in addition to the foundational costs. This debate within the debate will significantly impact the passage of the FY17 omnibus.
Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism (JASTA)
The bill previously passed both chambers with ease but was subsequently met with a veto from President Obama. It survived a swift veto override vote, the first delivered to President Obama. The popularity of the provisions allowing survivors of 9/11 to pursue justice carried the day. Now that we recognize some unintended consequences of the original bill, look for Congress to quietly insert some revisions to the bill into a lame duck legislative vehicle – this will likely be in the omnibus. Look for broader review of JASTA in the new Congress in January.
Supreme Court Nominee
The nomination of President Obama’s choice for the Supreme Court to replace the late Justice Scalia, Merrick Garland, will likely die and simply not be taken up before the 114th Congress concludes. . Look for President Trump to select a Supreme Court candidate from his previously released list of potential candidates.
Presidential Transition and Change of Government
President-elect Trump will make over 4,000 appointments to government positions, of which more than 1,000 will require Senate confirmation. This process of filling executive vacancies will take several months.
Future Quick Hits will address the new administration and the ongoing dynamic!