After a month-long recess and the November 8 midterm elections, Congress returns to Washington, D.C., this week with a jam-packed “lame-duck” session that centers around significant legislative items that must be addressed before the end of the 117th Congress. Later this week, you will receive a TFG Special Report discussing the lame-duck session and 2022 midterm election results.
Election Results: Republicans and Democrats fought for control of the House and Senate in last Tuesday’s election. The results defied expectations and resulted in the Democrats retaining control of the Senate, and the House is still awaiting a final determination. Many pundits and lawmakers expected a healthy Republican majority in the House and a majority in the Senate in what some called a “red wave.” The House was still up for grabs as of Monday afternoon with 20 uncalled races. However, Republicans remain confident that their party will take the gavel in the House with the current tally at 212 Rs to 203 Ds. The Democrats solidified their control in the Senate over the weekend after Nevada Senator Catherine Cortez Masto and Arizona Senator Mark Kelly retained their seats. The Georgia Senate race ended with no candidate receiving 50% of the vote resulting in a December 6 run-off between incumbent Senator Raphael Warnock (D-GA) and his Republican challenger Hershel Walker. A run-off victory in the only remaining race could expand the Democratic majority in the Senate to 51-49, and a win by Republicans would force Vice President Kamala Harris to serve as the tiebreaking vote. Of note, the 2022 midterms saw $16.7 billion in federal and state spending, setting a record for a midterm cycle.
Lame-duck: Before the swearing-in of the 118th Congress in early January of next year, Congress will finish out the current term with several critical legislative priorities. Election results upended the lame-duck strategy of each party. House Democrats will hold caucus elections after the Thanksgiving holiday on November 30 and December 1, and Senate Democrats will vote on the week of December 5. Congress returns with the House Republican Conference’s leadership votes for their expected majority on Tuesday. At the same time, Senate Republican lawmakers have asked for a postponement of Wednesday’s leadership votes until after the December 6 Georgia Senate run-off. Congress will attempt to complete many legislative items before they recess and end the 117th session on December 21. These items include but are not limited to a fiscal year 2023 government spending package; the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA); the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA); an emergency supplemental package; permitting reform; judicial nominations; and a variety of riders and reauthorization.
There are two must-pass legislative items for lawmakers: a government funding package and the NDAA. Congress passed, and President Biden signed into law a stopgap funding bill in September that funds the federal government through December 16, which is 32 days away. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and the Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) are considering combining the two must-pass legislative items, a move that would speed up the passage, limit floor time, and increase support for the omnibus spending package. The longstanding bipartisan NDAA featuring several hundred amendments began debate over recess when the Senate Majority Leader allowed the chambers’ Armed Service Committee Chair and Ranking Member to start the bill’s process. Added to the Senate’s $847 billion NDAA bill is the WRDA bill, which would provide the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers authorization to carry out activities concerning water resources development projects, ecosystem restoration, water supply and wastewater infrastructure, and other projects. For the omnibus spending package, parties must agree on a topline number for defense and non-defense spending before details of what lawmakers may include in the package are released. Speculation of what lawmakers may insert into an omnibus spending package includes Ukrainian aid, disaster assistance (in response to Hurricane Ian and Nicole), health aid (lawmakers rejected President Biden’s $27 billion request for COVID-19 and monkeypox funding), the National Flood Insurance Program extension, and Medicare and Medicaid extensions.
Other lame-duck priorities: energy permitting reform, same-sex marriage, the Electoral Count Act, pandemic prep (preparation and response for future and existing viruses and threats), trade policy (helping workers who lost jobs to import competition), drone threats. On permitting reform, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) received support from the White House on a proposal to speed up energy project permits, but talks stalled after liberal Democrats opposed the effort in September. The Senate chose the delay its vote on the House-passed legislation to codify same-sex marriage until after the midterm elections. Supporters want this bill passed into law before the end of the 117th Congress. Legislative items with a more challenging road in the lame-duck include the debt limit (authorized into 2023), tax credits and state and local tax (SALT) deductions, and immigration reform (especially for DREAMERS). Majority Leader Schumer mentioned the lame-duck session as a time for Democrats to pass many of President Biden’s judicial nominees. There are currently 119 judicial vacancies in federal district and appellate courts. It is unlikely that Congress will wade through all the legislative items mentioned above.
This week, the House will consider 31 bills under suspension of the rules, including the Senate-passed FEMA Improvement, Reform, and Efficiency Act of 2021 or FIRE Act (S 3092), which would allow for public mitigation applicants to relocate eligible structures once the entity demonstrates the structure is at risk of future damage from a future wildfire. The House also will vote on the Senate-passed Disaster Resiliency Planning Act (S 3510), which requires the Office of Management and Budget to establish guidelines that require federal agencies to incorporate natural disaster resilience into real property asset management and investment decisions. On Tuesday, the Senate will invoke cloture on the motion to proceed for Maria del R. Antongiorgi-Jordan to be U.S. District Judge for the District of Puerto Rico.
House and Senate committees will hold a total of 35 hearings for the remainder of the week. Hearings include a Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee hearing on “Farm Bill 2023: Rural Development and Energy Programs” and a Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure hearing on “Implementing IIJA: Opportunities for Local Jurisdictions to Address Transportation Challenges. The House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations will hold a hearing on “Postal Service Readiness for the Holiday Season,” among other committee hearings. Rep.-elect Rudy Yakym (R-IN) was selected to replace the late Congresswoman Jackie Walorski for the remainder of the 117th session.