As widely predicted, the Democrats took control of the House and the Senate will remain in Republican control. Between the shift in control of the House and a large number of retirements and losses, big changes are coming in the 116th Congress for housing and community development.
Right now, Democrats control 225 seats in the House and Republicans have 197 seats. Thirteen races are still too close to call. This is a net gain of 30 seats for the Democrats and gives them a relatively slim majority of 7 seats. In the Senate, Republicans have picked up two seats so far, giving them a 51 seat majority. Democrats managed to hold 46 seats. However, two races are still too close to call and one seat will go to a run-off election later this month.
The big question is how this new dynamic in Congress will play out within Washington, both between the Congressional chambers and with the White House. Will the Senate Republicans and the House Democrats be able to find enough common ground to pass legislation and spending bills? What role will the President choose to play and will his relationship with (presumptive) House Speaker Nancy Pelosi more closely mirror the deals they were able to forge throughout the past two years or will he revert to his recent campaign rhetoric?
These new dynamics will be tested soon during the lame duck session of Congress, which begins next week when all members of the current Congress return to Washington to finalize unfinished business. Newly-empowered Democrats will begin to assert muscle as Congress attempts to deal with a significant amount of legislative work, including a continuing resolution that expires on December 7, the Violence Against Women Act, the Farm bill, flood insurance, disaster relief, tax credits, and other must-pass legislation.
As detailed in a separate blog post, the impact on housing and community development could be significant, particularly in the House Financial Services Committee and the House Appropriations Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) Subcommittee.
Democrats taking control of the House means they will also take control of the committees, putting Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Cali.) in charge of the Financial Services Committee and Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) in charge of Appropriations.
Though neither has publicized an outline of their priorities for their respective committees, it can be expected that Rep. Waters will focus a significant amount of committee time on housing and HUD. Whereas the Republican-controlled Congress approved legislation like the Housing Opportunity Through Modernization Act (HOTMA) that provided program reform and regulatory relief, a Democratic-controlled House is likely to focus more on topics like the impact of budget cuts on programs, oversight, and subsidized housing resident impacts. There are benefits to both approaches and both required a bipartisan effort to pass the Senate.
Congresswoman Lowey this week insisted that Democrats would not cave on the President’s demand that FY 2019 spending include funding for a border wall and that she intends to negotiate aggressively for a FY 2020 budget deal to avoid $126 billion in automatic cuts that will otherwise be required because of the Budget Control Act of 2011. Her leadership will be tested early in the lame duck session as Democrats will look to her to lead the negotiations to finalize FY 2019 spending. As difficult of a feat as that may prove to be, her leadership will further be tested early in the year as FY 2020 negotiations begin and the extension of the debt ceiling expires in March, which will require Congress to act before the summer.