Contrary to the views of most pundits, pollsters and campaign strategists, the 2014 election cycle turned out to be a wave election that looked more like the 2010 midterms rather than the nail-biter that most of Washington’s political class expected. Republicans expanded their majority in the House by thirteen votes and gained the majority in the Senate by at least seven (possibly nine) seats, changing the Congressional landscape for a second time in eight years. It seems that the Democrats underestimated voter anger over paralysis and gridlock and overestimated their ability to communicate an effective message for why they should remain in a power-sharing role in Congress. It turns out that voters really do want to see progress on issues they care about and don’t necessarily care what the party label is, as long as that party can govern effectively. The Republicans were able to convince voters that the Democratic party, under President Obama’s leadership, couldn’t. So now Republicans are in charge.
What might NACWA members expect to see under a Republican Congress will begin to emerge over the coming days and weeks and may not be entirely clear until well into this next session of Congress, however we know more or less who will be in key leadership positions, at least for the Republicans. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) won reelection and is expected to become Majority Leader in the Senate, while Representative John Boehner (R-OH) will likely remain Speaker of the House with Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) remaining as House Majority Leader. On the Democratic side, things are less certain. Democrats will need to decide whether to keep Harry Reid (D-NV) their leader or elect another colleague, potentially Patty Murray (D-WA), Chuck Schumer (D-NY) or Dick Durbin (D-IL), all of whom are Reid’s lieutenants. The House Democratic caucus must decide whether to continue with Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) as Minority Leader or pass the baton to Steny Hoyer (D-MD) or someone else. Given that 2016 election cycle will be Presidential campaign year and potentially see Democrats regain the majority in the Senate given how many vulnerable Republicans are facing reelection, Democrats may vote for known quantities and stability rather than risk uncertainty and upheaval.
There will also be changes in key committee leadership slots that impact environment-related issues about which NACWA members care in both the House and the Senate as a result of last night’s returns. In the House, Democrats lost three key members, one due to retirement, who held important leadership positions over environmental-related committees. Retiring Congressman Jim Moran, Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee overseeing the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget will be replaced by Representative Betty McCollum (D-MN). Congressmen Nick Rahall (D-WV) and Tim Bishop (D-NY), Ranking Members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee, respectively, lost their reelection bids and will likely be replaced by Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Representative Donna Edwards (D-MD). Over in the Senate, Senator Lisa Murkowski (I-AK) will assume the Chairmanship of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and EPA, while Senators Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and John Boozman (R-AR) will assume the gavels for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and Water and Wildlife Subcommittee, respectively, while Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) will assume title of Ranking Members of those committees.
How these leadership changes impact water-related issues is unclear at this point. Many Republicans have made EPA’s Water of the U.S. rule and the Clean Power Plant rule top priorities to push back on and have proposed policy riders on appropriations bills to strip EPA of any ability to move forward with them. Though this current Congress completed work on a major water infrastructure package (Water Resources Reform and Development Act) and included a new water infrastructure investment program referred to as WIFIA, neither the House nor Senate FY15 spending proposal included money to implement it. The upcoming Congress will also deal with a large transportation reauthorization package which expires in May and will require a major infusion of new revenues to meet investment needs.
So, there are many challenges ahead for the 114th Congress, challenges that may or may not be easier to resolve by a more “unified” Republican majority. NACWA members: Stay tuned…