Update on ICPI Government Relations Initiatives - November 2018

November 16, 2018

Post-election and lame duck interim

At this writing, nearly all issues of interest to ICPI are in a period of change-over.  The midterm elections have been held, but the vote counting is not yet complete. The lame duck session has begun, but the most important issues remain to be addressed. Even the future leadership in the House remains uncertain and none of the House or Senate committee chairs have been selected, nor the rank and file Members of each Committee have been assigned. 

Senate:  as is widely reported, the Senate will remain in GOP control in the 116th Congress, which convenes in January 2019.  Current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will retain his post and control the Senate floor and committee chairmanships.  Senator Schumer will continue to lead the Democratic Minority. 

The outcome of the Florida Senate race remains in doubt, though candidate Rick Scott appears to have a strong lead.  The outcome of this race must be settled before the Senate can set the Republican-Democrat ratios for representation on each committee. 

We know that there are key decisions to make among senior Senators as to their choices of top committee chairmanships, and those initial decisions will have a cascading effect on other chairmanships and committee assignments downstream.  So we withhold prognostication on chairs and assignments at this time.  Chairs may not be decided for days or weeks, and committee assignments may not be finalized until later. 

House:  as widely reported the Democrats will take control of the House.  Numerically, the Democrat lead in seats may seem comfortable, but when factoring in philosophical, demographic and regional divisions within the Democratic Caucus, the future Democratic Speaker may end up having its vote calculus rendered unreliable in the same sense that has occurred in the GOP Majority of the current 115th Congress.  The first appearance of this division is occurring at this time as Cong. Nancy Pelosi is seeing some vocal opposition to her bid to once again become Speaker.  The fact that such opposition is public is noteworthy in its own right.  At this time, Cong. Pelosi is attempting to piece together the votes needed for her elevation to Speaker. 

Until the Speaker race is settled, the designation of chairmanships remains in official doubt, and committee assignments will occur later.

Regardless of how the Speaker race is determined, it is possible that the outcome of the election will be mixed in terms of its impact on the ability to move legislation.  While the retail call is for stalemate, in fact divided government can make it easier to negotiate and pass certain bills where there is some manner of bipartisan interest.  Highly controversial issues such as the repeal of the Dodd-Frank Act or Obamacare may be moot for the incoming 116th Congress.  But on other issues the reality of divided government can soften the shrillness and persuasiveness of the more extreme factions in the face of political realities; moderate voices who can reach across the aisle can have greater impact in avoiding deal-killer amendments in exchange for a realistic opportunity to pass more middle-of-the-road legislation.

We believe that among the issues than may receive an increased chance for passage would be a major infrastructure bill.  One of the key dynamics of such a bill would be to generate bipartisan agreement to upwardly adjust the federal gasoline tax, or some other novel means of funding an infrastructure bill, whose bipartisan advancement would diminish the potential negative political impact of a de facto tax increase. 

There is an interesting indication that the House Ways and Means Committee will create a subcommittee to fund an infrastructure bill.  The primary purpose of such a new subcommittee would be to address the fundamental weakness of a new infrastructure bill, a funding mechanism. 

Continuing on the theme of a major infrastructure bill, the incoming chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Rep. DeFazio, is working very hard to build expectations for such a major bill, with funding.

Initiatives during the current congressional lame duck session for the next few weeks, until the Christmas recess.  With regard to the lame duck session, the most critical issues that must be addressed are:

THUD Appropriations for FY19:  currently THUD appropriations are funded under a Continuing Resolution that will expire on Dec 7.  The ICPI wish is that a separate THUD bill passed by both the House and Senate earlier this year will be conferenced and passed in a free-standing bill for the remainder of FY19.  ICPI was successful in persuading the House and the Senate to add paver report language to accompany their respective bills.  ICPI strongly supports passage of a separate free-standing (non-CR) THUD Appropriations bill by the Dec. 7 CR deadline, and with the following report language:  

Permeable pavements.—The Committee encourages the Secretary to accelerate research, demonstration, and deployment of permeable pavements to achieve flood mitigation, pollutant reduction, stormwater runoff reduction, and conservation.  Projects may include roadway shoulder load testing and documenting lifecycle cost efficiency. 

DHS Appropriations for FY19:  currently DHS appropriations are funded under the Continuing Resolution that will expire on Dec 7.  This bill is controversial due to the President’s call for funding “the wall” and for other matters such as DACA that relate to immigration.  ICPI’s principal interest in this bill is that it is the most likely vehicle to pass business-friendly H-2B worker visa provisions.  ICPI is currently working with the H-2B Coalition to urge Members of Congress to move forward with a separate free-standing DHS bill that includes H-2B.  ICPI has signed multiple joint letters making various versions of this request.  ICPI strongly supports passage of a separate free-standing (non-CR) DHS Appropriations bill, with H-2B provisions, by the Dec. 7 CR deadline.

In the meantime, we expect to hold pre-116th Congress meetings with key Members of Congress whom we know will play decisive rolls on infrastructure issues to express support for a major infrastructure bill, with adequate funding, and also for a return to public-policy-defensible earmarks.

Further, now that the election has been held, ICPI and PaverPAC will consider select invitations to support re-election campaigns for 2020.  The 2020 election is now underway.