2015 Outlook: What do we know, and what are we thinking of, the 114th Congress?

With the Fiscal Year 2015 budget finally settled, and a new calendar year ahead of us, the question becomes what will the new 114th Congress, which was sworn into office on Monday, look like and how will they operate? As you will recall, the Republican Party now has a majority of 54 seats in the Senate, and they were able to increase their majority in the House. How will a fully Republican Congress work together with a Democratic President? Probably badly.

The President will no longer have the buffer of a Democratic Senate to help blunt some of the attacks Republicans are sure to level at his priorities. How will this impact the operations of the government? Republicans will push more strictly Republican priorities through Congress, though the rules of the Senate still give the minority some influence in that process. Whether those priorities will get through the bottleneck of the Senate depends on some potential culture and procedural changes in the chamber, but it’s likely that at least some Republican legislation will be sent to the President’s desk. The President has only deployed his veto twice during his administration, but it’s likely to get more of a workout over the next two years.

One obvious concern for the computing community is whether there will be another government shutdown. While Republican leadership has insisted there won’t, there’s certainly a faction of the party that sees shut downs as a legitimate tool to make progress on policy goals. Whether there will be a shut down then comes down to whether the leadership can keep a tight grip on party unity in the wake of some big decisions — like another increase to the debt limit — in the coming months.

But assuming that the Republicans are able to stay united (maybe a big assumption), and put legislation on the President’s desk, how can they be sure he will sign it? There are two ways to do this. The first is to make the legislation bipartisan. This route is less likely, as the Republican’s mid-term mandate was built on being in opposition to the President. That leaves the second option, which is attaching veto-likely bills to must pass legislation, such as defense spending or something similar. The idea is to force the President to sign the legislation into law or risk taking all the political heat for vetoing it. That includes any potential shutdown if they can’t agree on a bill.

Additionally, any authorizing bills (aka: policy bills) that Congress passes will likely be very Republican in nature. For example, we can expect the FIRST Act to be reintroduced. However, we won’t know in what form it will be reintroduced; will it be exactly as it was when it passed the House floor this year, or will it be even more onerous in nature? And how will it fare in a Republican Senate? And if it does pass Congress, will the President expend political capital to veto it?

There are a large number of unknowns coming into the 2015 calendar year. Right now, the policy community of Washington is divided on the possibilities of another shut down and how much, if at all, the Republicans will change the Senate. Only time will tell. As always, we will be monitoring Congress all year, so be sure to follow developments on the Policy Blog.