by David Gasson, Housing Advisory Group
The 2014 mid-term elections are almost over and by any measure they were a victory for Republicans in both the House and Senate. Republicans will gain control of the Senate with no less than 52 seats in the chamber and the potential to hold as many as 55 depending on the final results in Virginia, Louisiana, and Alaska. Add to this the uncertainty of which party Maine Independent Senator Angus King will caucus with, and there may be a Republican majority of 56 seats in the U.S. Senate.
In the U.S. House of Representatives, Republicans have increased their majority by at least 14 seats with a number of races still undecided. This outcome is less of a surprise. Combined with the results in the Senate, it strengthens the Speaker’s position and gives the party a very strong negotiating position with the President both in the upcoming Lame Duck session and in the new Congress that will convene in January.
As for our housing agenda, the best news of the day was the re-election of Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS). Senator Roberts sits on the Senate Finance Committee and is our lead Republican cosponsor for the fixed rate LIHTC along with Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA). One of the results of the new Republican majority is that Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) will become chairman of the Finance Committee while current chairman Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) will become its ranking member. The ratio on the committee will change as well. Democrats will lose at least one seat while Republicans will pick up one and possibly two seats on the committee. We will discuss who might fill those seats in a future update.
The Banking Committee will change as well, with Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) once again taking the chair of the committee. This could pose challenges for the housing agenda given Senator Shelby’s strong positions on GSEs and CRA. The ranking member of the committee remains to be seen, but it is likely to be Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY). Senator Schumer is a supporter of housing programs and also sits on the Finance Committee.
On the House side, there were no major surprises except perhaps the size of the Republican victory. This may result in a change in the ratio of Republicans to Democrats on the committees. It remains to be seen who will chair the Ways and Means Committee, although it is expected that Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) will prevail in the contest with Congressman Kevin Brady (R-TX). The other leadership change of interest is the likely ascension of Congressman Tom Price (R-GA) to chairman of the Budget Committee, taking over Congressman Ryan’s former position. It is expected that Congressman Price, an affordable housing supporter, will retain his seat on the Ways and Means Committee.
What lies ahead in the Lame Duck session as well as for the 114th Congress remains to be seen, but there are many dynamics in play. Republicans will run the legislative branch of government, but to continue in that role they will likely have to demonstrate that they can work with the President to get something done. This will undoubtedly continue to be a challenging endeavor.
While this past election cycle gave the Republican Senate a numerical advantage with more Democratic seats in play, the 2016 election cycle has Republicans defending 23 seats to just 10 for the Democrats. As with the recent mid-term elections, a key to the control of the Senate after the next election will be to demonstrate to constituents that something can be accomplished. The first opportunity to do so will be when the Congress reconvenes next week for the Lame Duck session of Congress. Two priorities for this session will be funding the government beyond December 11th, and considering the tax extenders package. All indications prior to the elections were that the leadership of both parties support moving forward on these legislative items in a constructive manner. But the dust is still settling from the elections, and it is always possible that the results could change those priorities. We will keep you posted on these and any other issues that might arise as the Lame Duck session approaches.