Be prepared for slow moving Congress

Following the victory of incumbent Senator Raphael Warnock (D) in the Georgia Senate run-off election, Democrats hold a 51-49 Senate majority in the 118th Congress that begins Jan. 3, 2023. Less than a week after the Georgia run-off, Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D) changed her party affiliation to Independent, although it appears she will continue to caucus with Democrats (like the chamber’s two other Independents – Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Senator Angus King, (I-ME). In the House of Representatives, all races have now been called with the Republications taking a 222 majority votes to the Democrats’ 212. That number will increase to 213 after the Virginia special election in February 2023 for the seat of Virginia Rep. Don McEachan who died three weeks after the election. “Expect some gridlock, especially in the beginning of the next Congress,” said Edward Ayoob, NAFEM legal counsel, Barnes & Thornburg.

“It’s clear that Congress is as divided as the country,” Ayoob said. “Since Republications can only lose four votes on any bill unless they secure Democrat support, if both sides can find common concerns the situation could spur cooperation. Business issues that labor supports, along with critical supply chain issues, could bring the parties together, although both parties would likely lose their right and left fringes in doing so. Otherwise, expect a slow-moving Congress even before normal 2024 presidential election delays.”

While the composition of Congress is finalized, several important variables remain. The Speaker of the House is yet to be decided when this newsletter was finalized. “Kevin McCarthy doesn’t have the votes, so the question is what concessions he must make and to whom to win the role,” Ayoob said.

Congress also needs to pass a year-end Fiscal Year 2023 spending package or another Continuing Resolution to keep the federal government open. The current agreement is set to expire Dec. 16, with a second Continuing Resolution expected to extend that deadline to Dec. 23. If a full-year spending package can be negotiated, legislation to address tariffs or other trade matters could be included. The chair of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee also is up in the air.

Overall, there is not much change on other committees important to NAFEM, other than chairs and ranking members in the House trading places. Something Washington insiders are excited to watch are the two Appropriations committees which, in a historic first, will be run by four women. “We’re seeing a genuine desire on their part to get things done and will be watching them closely,” added Ayoob.