Legislative Column: Legislative Prospects for 2022
By Jeff Simering, Director of Legislation
Since 2022 is a mid-term election year, political considerations will take on outsized proportions in any federal legislation. With the current razor-thin voting majorities in both chambers of Congress, the control of either house could swing in either direction. The conventional wisdom suggests little substantive legislation will occur prior to the November election -- though the past is not always prologue.
Presently the federal government is operating under a short-term continuing resolution through mid-February. Yet, passing annual appropriations bills, even this late in the fiscal year, would be a positive sign of some degree of partisan cooperation. On the other hand, the inability to pass President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda with only a simple majority vote under the expedited budget reconciliation process as well as the failure to secure partisan support of voting rights reform bills thus far in 2022 does not bode well for legislative comity.
The prospects, however, are not entirely bleak. There is usual room for some negotiation. Both political parties may have a collective interest, for example, in assisting particularly hard-hit sectors of the economy still struggling with COVID recovery. Whether that includes staffing shortages now pervasive across public school systems remains uncertain. Major interests in increasing defense spending are juxtaposed with major interests in increasing domestic spending offering a potential opportunity for compromise. And any bipartisan agreement on annual appropriations could produce a significant increase in ESEA Title I funding, which was proposed for doubling in President Biden’s FY2022 Budget request.
Additionally, the availability of the “once-per-fiscal year” budget reconciliation process provides another chance to pass major changes in federal budget revenues and investments if a simple majority of representatives and senators can be mustered. The unusual confluence of single party control of both houses of Congress and of the presidency – as now in place – continues to motivate efforts to use this reconciliation mechanism prior to the 2022 election. Interestingly, both an FY2022 budget reconciliation bill and an FY2023 budget reconciliation bill could be enacted prior to the November 2022 elections with the current majorities in both chambers of Congress.
Finally, there are multiple examples of substantive bipartisan legislation passed during election years. In education, the Improving America’s Schools Act was passed prior to major mid-term election changes in 1994, the IDEA amendments of 2004 were finalized very shortly after an election, and the Perkins Career and Technical amendments of 2006 were passed prior to the mid-term election. Unfortunately, the December before an election year can often be a line of demarcation in the ability to pass significant legislation, noting the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) and the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 (ESSA) passed at the end of the calendar year immediately prior to an election year.
Opportunities to overcome the conventional wisdom exist even in a contentious mid-term election year. But speculating on legislative prospects is far easier than actually getting something enacted.