Federal Government in 2021: Where Do We Go From Here?
Stephen A. Borg
When I was originally approached about writing a 2020 lookback article and crystal balling 2021, I thought alright this should be quite easy. Polls were somewhat showing that Democrats were going to drastically expand their House majority, take over the Senate with a minimum of five pick-ups, and easily win the Presidency. While the outcome of such an election would likely result in a flood of overbearing laws and regulations on the masonry industry, this update would at least be easy to write. A big push to make a single-payer government healthcare system, climate change regulations as far as the eye could see, and labor laws that would cause MCAA member businesses to run around in circles trying to comply with confusing, overburdening costly rules. But alas, that would have been too easy.
While trying to continue to deal with a global pandemic that continues to send shockwaves through our economy and normal ways of life, election season 2020 told previous 2020, “Here, hold my beer!” What we saw this election season was the things of a Tom Clancy novel that everyone would be gripped by but no one would fully believe. Once again polls were way off base and not only did the Democrats not expand their majority in the House, they lost a good number of seats and now hold one of the smallest majorities in history. At the same time, slowly but surely on election night, it became clear that targeted Republican Senators were outperforming and one by one they began winning seats Democrats were sure they were going to flip.
Could Republicans pull this off and hold their majority? But again, the unexpected happened and due to small, unique state law, both Georgia Senate races headed to run-offs as no one won either race by more than a percentage point. With a breakdown of 50 Republican Senators and 48 Democrat Senators, the two run-offs would determine which party controlled the Senate. In the meantime, as I was watching the House and Senate results pour in (and I should mention that many of these races were won with razor-thin margins throughout the country) the Presidential results were closer than I could have ever imagined.
While the final electoral college tally was not that close the actual vote margins in many of the toss-up states was as thin as it has ever been, with Joe Biden edging out the President in most of those states including Georgia. The implications of the Georgia run-offs became clear. If Republicans won just one of the races they would be fully in control of the Senate, however, if Democrats won both seats the Senate would be evenly split 50-50 and Vice President-Elect Harris would hold the tie-breaking vote and Democrats would control the Senate.
January 5, 2021, came and once again we saw extremely tight races, and what many people thought unthinkable happened. A traditionally “red” state had just elected two Democrats to the Senate and Democrats will be in charge of a 50-50 Senate. So where do we stand? We have a Democrat President who won by razor-thin margins, a Democrat House majority that is reeling from heavy losses and needing to thread the needle to get any legislation passed as the progressive wing of the party tries to pull them all to the left, and a Senate that could not be any closer, but ultimately controlled by Democrats. Then as we all know, on January 6th, an unfathomable event occurred, and I watched as my former workplace, the world’s foremost symbol of democracy, was violently attacked and stormed. I will not be spending time in this column discussing the aftermath of that day mainly because to be quite honest, at the time of writing this article, the fallout from that tragic day is still being felt and worked through by both parties and Members of Congress.
So where does this leave us heading into the rest of 2021 and what will happen in Congress and within the halls of the White House and Federal Agencies? I could spend time telling you what exactly Democrats in Congress might try to pass, but there are three certainties that I want to highlight for you, some of which may play out between the time I am writing this and the time you are reading this.
First, I can guarantee you that the most powerful people in Washington, D.C. will be the moderate wings of both parties, which are relatively small in number but can and will impact what can come to the floor of both Chambers and what ultimately passes. Senators Joe Manchin, (D-WV), Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Mitt Romney (R-UT) and the Blue Dog Coalition (moderate, budget-conscious Democrats), Tuesday Group (moderate Republicans), and the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus of the House will all have massive influence over the legislative process and what legislation can and cannot move. While some Democrats will be talking a big game, without ensuring the buy-in of the moderate factions, massive legislation will not be able to proceed or be passed with the razor-thin majorities.
Second, to get around some of these issues, Democrats will surely try to use the Budget Reconciliation process, which allows for a simple majority instead of 60 votes in the Senate to pass major healthcare, tax, and potential infrastructure packages (but again Senator Joe Manchin will play a massive role in this process should it be attempted), and the regulatory processes through the various federal agencies. The Biden Administration will surely utilize the federal agencies to put forward numerous rules on issues that will be too controversial for Congress to pass without consensus.
And finally, the relationships the members of MCAA and the MCAA have built up over the years with Members of Congress through our legislative fly-ins and our dozens of coalition partners will be more important now than ever before. While it is easy to get discouraged with what you hear or see in the news, Congress will still need to act and your voice still needs to be heard. With what will likely be a flurry of DOL rules we must continue to play an active role in our coalitions and your engagement helps us carry a much more powerful voice and more influence over coalition actions and potential responses and lawsuits.
So, to sum this all up in a tidy little package… 2021 and 2022 will be two years the likes of which we might never see again, but relationships matter, moderates will rule the roost, and our voice must be heard in these battles. While there is a lot of uncertainty… STAY ENGAGED, STAY INFORMED, and let the MCAA know how you want to partner in our efforts during these important times.