Party control of the Senate in the next Congress—and the breadth of Republicans' House majority—were still open questions the day after Election Day.
Amid all the uncertainty, some engineering and construction group officials see lessons in the election results and signals about what they might portend when the 118th Congress convenes in January.
Three key Senate races remained too close to call on Nov. 9, and one—in Georgia—was expected to require a December runoff.
The GOP was en route to a majority in the House, although a more slender one than the party had hoped for, and touted. The precise number of GOP seats remained fuzzy late on Wednesday. In the Senate, whichever party wins a majority will have only a narrow margin, perhaps a continuation of the current 50-50 party split.
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“Even with many key races yet to be decided, it is clear that neither party has a strong mandate," said Brian Turmail, Associated General Contractors of America vice president for public affairs and strategic initiatives, in an email. “Instead both parties should appreciate that voters prefer pragmatism to extremism.”
Steve Hall, American Council of Engineering Cos. senior vice president for advocacy, says that when the final House numbers are in, the GOP will have “a pretty thin majority.” He adds, “That is going to make it even more difficult for the new speaker—presumably that will be Kevin McCarthy—to do anything major.”
Hall expects the Republican-controlled House to have “positioning votes” over the next couple of years, with an eye to the 2024 presidential race. He adds that the congressional agenda will “quickly become all about 2024.”
FAA Bill on 2023 Agenda
Nevertheless, “there are still must-do items” on the infrastructure front facing the new Congress, Hall says, with the lead item on the list a multi-year Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization. The current FAA bill expires on Sept. 30, 2023.
The top engineering and construction issues will be provisions dealing with FAA’s Airport Improvement Program construction grants and whether Congress will support an increase in passenger facility charges. The fees have not been raised since 2000.
A new water resources development act, or WRDA, could be taken up, but not until 2024. “I think those [bills] still have a chance,” Hall says. “I think lawmakers on both sides will … hopefully go back to their bipartisan DNA when it comes to infrastructure and move those initiatives.”
Hall also says, "Republican leaders have made clear they do want to focus on oversight in a broad way.”
That could include oversight hearings by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, under the likely chairman, Sam Graves (R-Mo.), on aspects of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA).
But Hall does not foresee significant congressional threats or changes to the funding law.
The National Utility Contractors Association saw an encouraging message in Election Day victories of the six House Republicans who voted for the infrastructure law, including Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska—plus many Democrats who also supported the $1.2-trillion package.
Doug Carlson, NUCA's CEO, said those wins indicate voters’ “enduring approval” of the law.
Life for Clean Energy
Even a GOP-controlled House—and a possible Republican Senate—won’t necessarily be the death knell some advocates fear for clean energy infrastructure projects, analysts said in post-election briefings. They say the U.S. could continue to trim greenhouse gas emissions while building new renewable and emission-reduction infrastructure,.
Scott Segal, co-chair of the Bracewell law firm’s Policy Resolutions Group, sees some key Biden administration achievements as “meat-and-potatoes issues” that drew bipartisan support.
That category includes the IIJA, the recently enacted Inflation Reduction Act—and its $369 billion for climate-related provisions—and the CHIPS Act, which boosts manufacturing of parts for renewable energy projects, Segal said Nov. 9.
“Simply because we are likely to have a divided government … does not mean that we should put all consideration of energy issues on the shelf,” he said, suggesting that there may be more reason for the two parties to come together on issues they can agree on.
“Removing obstacles to energy development that both parties tend to desire is something that could be the basis for the bipartisan advancement of things like permitting reform” and transmission policy, Segal said.
A Republican-led House and Senate could mean more support for traditional energy infrastructure as well, said Frank Macchiarola, senior vice president of policy at the American Petroleum Institute (API).
Natural gas has been a factor in reducing greenhouse emissions, he said, adding that the trade group would like to see more natural gas pipeline projects and liquefied natural gas export facilities. “LNG exports have been a win for this country … and it’s an issue we think can receive bipartisan support,” he said.
Kaveh Guilanpour, vice president of international strategies for the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, said that even if both chambers flip, Republicans are unlikely to have the 60 votes needed to overcome a Senate filibuster or the two-thirds needed to override a veto from President Biden.
“A Republican majority will be hard-pressed to roll back the lion’s share of U.S. climate legislation,” Guilanpour said in a statement.
He said the Inflation Reduction Act “is likely to stand regardless, and there are not presently significant signals that Republicans aim to curtail the incentives and tax credits for clean energy investments that constitute the majority of [that measure's] funding.”
Abby Hopper, Solar Energy Industries Association president and CEO, noted that her group members are focused more on regulations expected from federal agencies implementing the recent infrastructure laws than on new legislation.
Those rules will get projects in the ground and people working, she said. “So much of what has to happen does not necessarily involve Congress.”
In other election developments, project funding ballot issues passed in Southeast states but special taxes did not; also Rhode Island voters approved school finance measures.