Right Down the Middle
By Manish Naik, Director of Legislative Services
With the results of the November mid-term elections now finalized, changes are heading to Washington that will affect the way Congress and the Biden Administration operate for the next two years. Republicans won 222 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and will return to the majority in that chamber for the first time since 2018. Senator Raphael Warnock (D) won a Georgia run-off election for the second time, defeating Republican challenger Herschel Walker and increasing the Democratic majority to 51 votes in the Senate. Democrats would have continued their control of the Senate next Congress no matter what happened in the run-off, but the win in Georgia gives the party slightly more leverage than another 50-50 divide would.
The split between a Democratic Senate and Republican House will be evident in the first session of the 118th Congress starting next year. As we have seen historically, the result will be major gridlock on any legislative action absent bipartisan and bicameral compromise. For the Biden Administration, the loss of a Democratic House will affect the ability of Congress to pass legislation using the budget reconciliation process, which both Democratic and Republican presidents have used to sign signature bills into law when their party controls the White House, Senate, and House. This once-every-fiscal-year budget resolution process has been used twice since President Biden’s inauguration, first for the American Rescue Plan Act in 2021 and again for the Inflation Reduction Act in 2022.
Despite the Senate remaining under Democratic control, leadership changes are expected for both the majority and minority side on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. Senator Bernie Sanders (I- VT) will become chair with Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) moving to the top spot on the Appropriations Committee. Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) will step in as ranking member on the HELP Committee, replacing retiring Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) as the top Republican. Current House Education and Labor Committee chair Bobby Scott (D-VA) and ranking member Virginia Foxx (R-NC) are expected to swap roles with the change of majority in the House, although Representative Foxx must first secure a waiver from a Republican House rule that does not allow members to serve more than three consecutive terms as ranking member or committee chair.
With enactment of legislation a longshot in a divided Congress, the new Republican House majority has promised significant oversight activity for the Biden Administration, with education-related hearings likely in the area of student loans and stimulus funding under the Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief (ESSER) program. The introduction of a “Parents’ Bill of Rights” legislation, modeled after similar bills that have been enacted by some state legislatures, is also expected in the House. In the Senate, the addition of one extra Democrat will allow committees to move judicial nominees and political appointees through the approval process more quickly than in the current 50-50 Senate.
While getting legislation passed in a divided Congress is always a major challenge, especially with the 2024 presidential election looming, recent bipartisan cooperation resulted in the passage of major bills related to national infrastructure, gun safety, and semiconductor manufacturing. Continued cooperation in the new Congress in areas such as child nutrition and cybersecurity could help school districts where assistance is sorely needed.