It can be safely said that 2016 has been a memorable year in Washington, D.C. Everything the experts knew about politics was turned upside down and inside out as the election results broke nearly every rule we have ever known. This applies not only to the election of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States, but also to the remarkable resilience shown by Congressional Republicans as they bucked expectations of a 20-plus-seat loss, losing only six.
The election had an immediate impact on the remaining agenda items of the 114th Congress and the productivity of its lame-duck session. Previous Congresses have used the opportunity of lame-duck sessions to address long-standing legislative issues that spilled into the post-election period. Given that reliance on this time period has increased in recent years, it was widely expected that many outstanding issues affecting electrical contractors would be addressed before the end of 2016. After the election, it quickly became clear they wouldn’t.
As President-elect Trump’s transition sets a new course for his relationship with the American people, so did his relationship with Washington begin anew. Within days of his election, Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence embarked on a whirlwind series of meetings with President Barack Obama and Congressional leaders. It became apparent to Congressional Republicans that the incoming administration wanted to make its mark on a wide variety of issues, including ones yet to be addressed by the 114th Congress.
That message was received, and, by early December, Congress approved a continuing resolution funding the government through Apr. 28, 2017. As the incoming administration wanted, the measure did not include any major items unrelated to the actual budget. Republican leaders, particularly in the House of Representatives, felt emboldened by the election results not to compromise with Democrats on a slate of outstanding issues until the new GOP-led White House is inaugurated. This move is certain to offer Republicans more leverage in 2017.
In many ways, the opportunity to address such issues as energy policy, tax reform, healthcare and pension reform was lost for the short term. It is expected that two early actions of the new Republican Congress and Trump administration will be to make substantial changes to the Affordable Care Act and enact a significant tax reform package. These items will be controversial and subject to opposition and delay, particularly in the Senate where any bill with less than 60 votes of support would be subject to a filibuster.
Several other issues, such as energy and pension policy, were days away from final agreement in the closing moments of the 114th Congress. Industry advocates, such as the National Electrical Contractors Association, believe there will be ample opportunity for the electrical construction industry to weigh in on multiple issues. Regulatory reform will likely be first on the agenda. Congress will quickly move to pass legislation reforming the federal regulatory process and numerous “resolutions of disapproval” for regulations set forth during the final months of the Obama administration.
Congress will also have to find a way to develop and finance a massive $1 trillion infrastructure package proposed by Trump, approve a long-term energy policy bill, pass immigration reform, foster apprenticeship training, and reform the multiemployer pension system.