Home » GOP Control of Congress May Give Key Bills a Push
With voters putting Republicans back in control of the Senate--and giving the GOP a slightly larger House majority, construction and business groups have increased hope for their legislative priorities. But the outcome may not end the gridlock that marked the picture on Capitol Hill this year. The GOP's new hold in the Senate remains slim, providing Democrats there ample room under the chamber's rules to stall legislation.
In the Nov. 5 elections, Republicans won many of the toss-up races, adding seats in Minnesota, Missouri, and Georgia. The Associated Press reported the GOP has at least 51 votes in the Senate and a 227-203 edge in the House.
Kirk Pickerel, president and CEO of the Associated Builders and Contractors, says of the outcome, "Obviously, it's good news for us. We feel like we'll finally be able to get our legislative agenda to move forward." He adds, "I think it's going to loosen up the logjam."
He hopes that bills to provide a federal terrorism insurance backstop and to set up a Cabinet homeland security department will move.
Even though Democrats should be able to muster the 40 votes needed to block floor action, Pickerel says the GOP will be able to steer the Senate agenda. "When you look at the committee chairmanships, that's where the real power lies....We think that's going to make a huge difference in what moves forward."
The new chairs of key Senate panels are likely to be Ted Stevens of Alaska at Appropriations, James Inhofe of Oklahoma at Environment and Public Works, Charles Grassley of Iowa at Finance and John McCain of Arizona at Commerce, Science and Transportation.
The election results are widely viewed as a triumph for President Bush, who campaigned and raised money for many GOP candidates in key races around the country. Jeffrey D. Shoaf, the Associated General Contractors' senior executive director for government and public affairs, says, "He took a gamble and won, because he thought it was important enough."
A lame-duck congressional session is expected to begin Nov. 12, with the many unfinished 2003 appropriations bills the main items on the table. Shoaf says Democrats would seem to be under pressure to get the spending bills passed before Republicans take over. But the GOP would want to delay action until they are in charge next year. "It pours concrete on the log jam," says Shoaf.
Bruce Josten, executive vice president for government affairs with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, expects Congress to pass a continuing resolution running until the end of January and an omnibus bill to cover the unfinished 2003 measures. He adds, "I can't image the next Congress dealing with 11 '03 appropriations bills and 13 '04 appropriations bills."
Josten says that in the 108th Congress, "I think we will also see a stimulus debate and some discussion of making the President's tax cuts permanent."
On energy legislation, also stuck in a House-Senate conference before the election, Josten says, "I think it's one that the Republican leadership is likely to believe that they would like to start over in the next Congress on." He notes that key provisions such as renewable energy, electricity and climate change are still unresolved in conference. He says, "I'd handicap [energy] as a 108th Congress issue."
Steve Hall, American Council of Engineering Companies' director of government affairs, says, "The election results do bode well for our efforts to fight union [attempts] to shut down contracting-out, government outsourcing. I think we have a leadership in the Senate that will be...considerably more friendly to industry's role in certainly delivering engineering services to the taxpayer."
An Senate amendment on a pending appropriations bill would cut the Bush administration's percentage target for outsourcing for 2003, he says.
Hall also is hopeful for progress on energy and terrorism insurance bills. He notes that there is "strong bipartisan support" for renewing the Price-Anderson Act's nuclear liability protection--an item energy conferees did agree on. "That can easily be done this year and other elements of the energy package and terrorism insurance can be done this year."