Published on November 5, 2018
Midterms 2018 – Here’s what you need to know:
Lawmakers facing tight races in this year’s midterm elections are biting their fingernails at the thought of being evicted from their congressional offices and forced to room with other defeated incumbents relocated around campus during the lame duck session*. The elections to be held tomorrow, November 6 will determine the outcomes of all 435 House members, 35 Senators and 36 governorships.
Currently, Republicans hold majority control over the nation’s political institutions. After the Republicans swept control of the legislative branch and executive branch following the 2016 elections, there is a general sentiment that Tuesday’s election will be an assessment of the sitting President.
On the House side, there are 237 Republicans (plus two non-voting members representing the territories of Guam and Puerto Rico) and 197 Democrats (with an additional four non-voting delegates representing Washington DC, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands). Though all 435 voting members are up for re-election, Democrats need a net gain of 23 seats to secure the House majority.
Meanwhile, the Senate has 51 Republicans and 49 Democrats (counting two independents who caucus with the Democrats). Since the Senate runs on six-year staggered terms, there are only 35 seats up for grabs, 26 of which are held by Democrats and 9 by Republicans. Democrats need a net gain of 2 seats to secure the Senate majority.
What’s at stake for Puerto Rico?
For years, Puerto Rico has been in dire need of a large infrastructure package to overhaul neglected highway, bridges and public buildings. It seems that regardless of the electoral outcome, infrastructure is high on both Democrat’s and Republican’s priority list. President Trump has publicly indicated that an infrastructure package will follow the midterms, and Democratic leader Pelosi (assuming Democrats choose her as the next Speaker of the House) has plans to “build, build, build”. At least the idea of bipartisanship is not all lost.
If Democrats take over the house, it is expected they will exercise full control over legislative oversight on government processes. While a lot of the attention will focus on political corruption and cronyism, Democrats are expected initiate dozens of investigations, including the federal response to natural disasters.
In terms of disaster recovery funding, funds appropriated for Puerto Rico range anywhere from $33 to $45 billion. The government of Puerto Rico estimates total damages at around $139 billion, signaling that a lot of work lies ahead. How Congress decides to manage spending will largely depend on who will hold the gavel in committees of importance to Puerto Rico. Below are key committees of jurisdiction with their respective chairs and ranking members.
In the end, it’s all about voter turnout. Whether you hate ’em or love ’em, it is ultimately voters who call the shots. According to a poll in Real Clear Politics, despite a prevailing disenchantment across party lines for all elected officials holding leadership positions, Republicans still carry an advantage on public approval and that could translate to a voter surge.
- Setting up the next Congress: Both parties will hold elections to designate the new Congressional leadership.
- Office shuffling: A lottery for office distribution is held, with a preference for the majority party and senior members.
- Class of 116 Freshmen: New elected officials will start attending orientation sessions and staffing up their vacant positions.
- Floor action: There are certain must-pass bills that will be addressed during the lame duck. For one, Congress must fund the government. Lawmakers approved and signed into law 75 percent of discretionary spending. Everything else was deferred through a Continuing Resolution until Dec. 7. The remaining appropriation bills are: Agriculture, Commerce/Justice/Science, Financial Services, Homeland Security, Interior-Environment, State-Foreign Ops, Transportation-HUD.
There are other nice-to-have issues that have a chance at being considered, namely the 5-year reauthorization of the Farm Bill, technical fixes to the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, immigration reform, etc. Those legislative vehicles, however, are peppered with controversial policy riders that are hard to swallow for both sides. We just have to wait and see how willing members are to engage in another set of debates.
Bottom line: Elections matter and they have an unmistakable effect on policy. Here’s to the 116th Congress.
*According to the Congressional Research Service, the term “lame duck” was first coined in Britain during the 18th century and referred to bankrupt businessmen considered “lame,” like a game bird injured by shot. It eventually evolved and is now used when referring to elected officials whose service has a known end date.