Washington Update

Inside (the Beltway) Scoop

By: Benjamin Krinsky
Thursday, November 15, 2018

Midterm Election Results: Democrats Take House, Republicans Retain Senate; Lame-Duck Congress Faces Thorny Political Issues; New Science Board Members Announced

Following the November 6 midterm elections, a large number of new legislators are poised to join the 116th Congress in January. Though a handful of tightly contested races are yet to be called, Democrats will clearly be the majority in the House of Representatives, while Republicans retain control of the Senate. In the coming weeks, both the House and Senate will hold elections to choose their leadership.

Several legislators who served on the House Science Committee or on appropriations subcommittees that fund scientific programs lost their re-election bids: Rep. John Culberson (R-TX; current Chairman of the House Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies, or CJS, Appropriations Subcommittee); Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA); Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-IL); Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA); and Rep. Steve Knight (R-CA).

Major changes in the composition of Senate committees are unlikely. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) is poised to continue as chair of the full Senate Appropriations Committee. Similarly, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) will likely retain his position as chair of the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee. And Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) is expected to continue chairing the Senate CJS Appropriations Subcommittee.

Meanwhile in the House, with a change in the majority party, several Ranking Members are likely to become chairs of their respective committees. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) is set to become chair of the full House Appropriations Committee.

On the House Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) will take up the gavel. José Serrano (D-NY) will most likely become chair of the House CJS Appropriations Subcommittee. The House Science Committee, which determines policies affecting the National Science Foundation, will be led by Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX).

Congress reconvened for its “lame-duck” session on November 13. Seven of the fiscal year (FY) 2019 spending bills have not yet been completed. Programs in these bills, including the National Science Foundation, remain funded by a continuing resolution (CR) set to expire on December 7. If past is precedent, Congress is unlikely to finalize these bills before the current CR expires, meaning another temporary spending measure will be needed to avert a partial government shutdown.

Among the outstanding bills, House and Senate conferees are closest to agreement on a package of four: Interior-Environment; Financial Services; Transportation, Housing and Urban Development; and Agriculture-Food and Drug Administration.

A slate of other legislative matters is also unresolved, including funding for a proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and emergency hurricane relief. The White House continues to demand money for the wall, even threatening a government shutdown if Congress does not make a stronger commitment to it. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has stated his support for wall funding but opposition to a government shutdown.

Finally, Congress is trying to come to an agreement on the Farm Bill. The bill contains a number of contentious provisions, including language in the House version that would add work requirements for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients. In the absence of a resolution, a wide-range of agricultural programs will have to be temporarily extended into 2019.

In the Executive Branch, on November 5 the White House announced seven appointees to the National Science Board. Two of the appointees, Dr. Maria Zuber and Dr. Geraldine Richmond, are returning members. This slate will serve out the remainder of a six-year term ending in 2024.