The Democrats gained control of the House of Representatives and the Republicans grew their majority in the Senate in the midterm elections on November 6, although a few races remain undecided as of today with recounts and runoffs occurring in several states. Several high-profile candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Deb Haaland (D-NM), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Katie Hill (D-CA) and others won on platforms that included bold housing solutions. While the split in Congress will most likely lead to legislative gridlock at the federal level, NLIHC will continue to work with the many new and existing congressional housing champions to push for affordable homes for the lowest income people.
Committee assignments and new leadership roles have yet to be determined, but current ranking member Maxine Waters (D-CA) has confirmed that she will be taking over as chair of the House Financial Services Committee. Representative Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) is expected to chair the Housing and Insurance subcommittee. Several Republican members of the committee could take over for current chair Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), who is retiring at the end of this Congress, including Patrick McHenry (R-NC), Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO), or Sean Duffy (R-WI), the current chair of the Housing and Insurance subcommittee. Representative Waters has long been a champion of affordable housing and is expected to use her position to focus on pressing housing challenges across the nation and oversight of federal agencies.
On the appropriations side, Representative Nita Lowey (D-NY) will likely lead the full House Appropriations committee, with Representative David Price (D-NC) serving as chair of the Transportation and Housing and Urban Development (THUD) subcommittee. With Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen’s (R-NJ) retirement, the full committee Republican leader could be Kay Granger (R-TX), Tom Cole (R-OK), or Tom Graves (R-GA). Representative Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) may continue his leadership in the THUD subcommittee as ranking member or receive another appointment. One of the first tasks of the Appropriations Committee will be to negotiate a bipartisan, bicameral agreement to lift the spending caps on domestic and defense programs for the FY20 spending bills.
Representative Richard Neal (D-MA) will likely become chair and Representative Kevin Brady (R-TX) will serve as ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee.
In the Senate, some significant changes to committee leadership could occur if Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) takes over as chair of the Finance Committee for Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who retires this year. If Grassley remains in his current position as chair of the Judiciary Committee, then Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID) could switch from leading the Banking Committee to fill Hatch’s seat on the Finance Committee. This would put Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) next in line to lead the Banking Committee. If Senator Grassley moves to lead the Finance Committee, then Senator Crapo will likely continue to lead the Banking Committee. Senator Grassley’s decision could have a significant impact on housing policy. Unlike Senator Hatch who co-authored legislation with Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) to expand and reform the Low Income Housing Tax Credit to better serve households with the lowest incomes, Senator Grassley has been a critic of the tax credit program. The ranking members of both committees are likely to continue with Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) on the Finance Committee and Senator Sherrod Brown on the Banking Committee.
The leadership of the Senate Appropriations committee is unlikely to change, with Senators Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) leading the full committee and Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Jack Reed (D-RI) heading the THUD subcommittee.
Lame Duck Priorities
During the “lame duck” session – after the elections and before the new Congress members take their seats in January – the House and Senate will have a number of legislative items to address, including the FY 2019 spending bill, a disaster recovery package for communities impacted by Hurricanes Florence and Michael, tax extenders, and other must-pass legislation.
While the current Continuing Resolution will keep the government open to December 7, it is unclear whether Congress will be able to enact final spending bills before the end of the year. Some experts worry that President Trump will use the approaching immigrant caravan from Central America to threaten a government shutdown in exchange for funding to construct a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
A disaster recovery package, on the other hand, is very likely to be passed once FEMA and HUD have finished their assessment of unmet housing and infrastructure needs, which could be completed before the end of the year; members of the North Carolina and Florida delegation are eager to deliver much-needed resources to their states.
The lame duck session also presents an opportunity to enact part or all of the Cantwell-Hatch Affordable Housing Tax Credit Improvement Act on a tax extenders package, with a fix to the 4% floor on the list of top priorities for congressional champions.
Congress only has a few weeks to tackle its packed legislative agenda before time runs out.