January 1, 2019

What Issues Will Dominate The First Few Months Of The 116th Congress?

The 116th Congress will begin on Thursday, Jan. 3 as few other meetings of federal lawmakers have: with a partial government shutdown in effect (see related story here). The woman who is likely to be elected speaker of the House on Thursday – U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) – has said her first act as leader will be to put forward a bill to end the funding stalemate.

That bill, however, will not include the $5 billion the White House wants in order to build President Donald Trump’s border wall. So while Rep. Pelosi’s bill might attract enough votes to pass that chamber, it’s uncertain whether it will garner enough votes to pass in the Senate, which remains under Republican control. Even if the bill did pass the upper chamber, the president likely would veto it, prolonging the partial shutdown. Members of the 116thCongress could very well spend their first few weeks in office debating government spending, border security, and immigration.

A host of other issues also could be on the legislative agenda during the first few months of 2019, including:

  • The United States Mexico Canada Agreement, which would replace the current trilateral trade deal between the three countries. Democrats, who will control the U.S. House, have said they want changes to the labor provisions included in the deal before they are willing to pass it. Some lawmakers also would like to see the Trump administration get rid of its Section 232 steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada and Mexico before approving the pact.
  • Whether to renew several tax provisions that have expired over the last two years. Republicans also want to make some technical corrections to the major tax overhaul that was passed in 2017.
  • An infrastructure bill. This issue is generally considered one where the two parties potentially could reach an agreement, but shortly after the election, Democratic leaders said they want an infrastructure package to include efforts to address climate change. That matter will be a point of contention between the two parties.

The new year also could bring new tariffs. Right before the Christmas holiday, U.S. Commerce Secretary said imposing tariffs on imports of autos and automobile parts is still very much on the table.