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New Year, New Congress: What’s Worth Watching in 2019

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Jezree Friend is the Manufacturer & Business Association’s government relations representative and is responsible for developing legislative priorities and strategies; encouraging membership grassroots activities; and lobbying on behalf of a pro-growth, pro-business agenda. Contact him at jfriend@mbausa.org.

Welcome to 2019 and the 116th U.S. Congress. The Republicans increased their majority in the Senate to 53, while the two Independent senators will join the other 45 in the Democratic Caucus. The U.S. House is controlled by the Democratic Party for the first time since the end of 2010. This is a product of historical consistency rather than the highly advertised “blue wave” that never materialized. Historically, the party of the president loses around 30 House seats during a midterm election. The 2018 midterm proved to be no exception as the Democrats picked up 38 seats since the end of the previous Congress. Slightly better than the course average, the plus-35 vote majority pales in comparison to President Obama’s first midterm in 2010 when his party lost 63 seats.

Here, in Pennsylvania, largely fueled by the PA Supreme Court establishing its own map and a couple resignations, the congressional delegation ratio has moved from 12 to 6, in favor of Republicans, to a 9-to-9 split. As confusing as this most recent map change experience has been, it will change once again in two years following the 2020 census — more on that soon.

What Can We Expect?
There has been a plea by those from the left for investigations and hearings into executive branch leadership to include the president. If this continues to receive traction, it could more closely resemble a witch hunt than legitimate concern. Should this become the order of the day, the Democratic leadership will discover two things: 1) The president doesn’t have as much money as he let on; who could have guessed he could exaggerate? 2) They will have spun their wheels without being able to stand on principled legislation for the 2020 election.

For the sake of civil discourse, I would hope the Democrat-controlled House takes former Governor Ed Rendell’s election night advice when he told his party to “Legislate, legislate, legislate, and forget about investigate, investigate, investigate.”

Additionally, the new leadership may attack provisions in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, namely, increasing the federal corporate tax rate. This will be used against Republican senators for liberal policy support should they pursue legislation and not investigations. It is also likely the successor to NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) could be fast tracked as the Democratic leadership has been outspoken about trade.

Brace yourself, we may actually see bipartisanship in the next two years. If the new leadership doesn’t get in their own way, there are three policy initiatives you can expect to see: prescription drug prices, infrastructure and immigration.

President Trump has been vocal on his willingness to work across the aisle on price setting and regulation of prescription drug prices. This is something, regardless of political affiliation, legislators are hearing about from their constituents. It just may be the time they deliver.

Infrastructure is something the president campaigned on and has bipartisan support. The mutual support could lead to progress on an immigration bill. Contrary to some, the president has softened his tone on immigration, namely DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).

Lastly, the next two years will be the most influential on the 2020 elections. Over the next year, Democrats looking to make a run will jockey for relevancy, but as it stands, there is no real front-runner or at least no one who concerns the Republican leadership. I heard a previous Democratic presidential nominee may try, for a third time.

It’s possible the president will get a third Supreme Court nominee and his increased muscle in the Senate should make that a lock. As far as his re-election bid, his “tone” undoubtedly will play a role. More so will be his party’s ability to tell the story of his policy successes, something they failed to capitalize on in the 2018 midterms.