The 2022 Midterm Elections have come and gone, yet most of Washington is still trying to make sense of what happened. While it’s common knowledge that Republicans underperformed, they still were able to secure a majority in the House of Representatives, having won the 5 seats they needed to secure the majority. That majority is likely to expand by a few more seats, though by how much is still uncertain. Meanwhile, Senate Democrats have likely expanded their majority in the Senate, though we will have to wait for the results of the runoff election in Georgia to be certain.
What does this mean for next year? To say the Republican majority in the House is precariously small is an understatement. Having only a 4 or 5 seat majority will mean the House Republican leadership will have no room for defections on legislative votes. And given the highly independent nature of the most conservative members of the GOP House Caucus (ie: the Freedom Caucus), we can expect many votes to be nail-bitters or even see legislation pulled from consideration. There is also an open question of how House Republican leaders will maintain control and if they will need to put down constant no-confidence revolts from their caucus; as just one example, the vote for Rep. McCarthy (R-CA) to become Speaker of the House is uncertain at this time.
Even with those challenges, due to the nature of the House as a majority-rules chamber, House Republicans are in a naturally strong political position to enact their agenda. They will also have a perch to launch investigations into the Biden Administration at will, which will likely disrupt the President and various Federal Department’s operations. But how much the House Republicans stick together will determine how successful they will be in the majority.
On the Democrat side of the House, things are only slightly clearer. With Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer announcing they are stepping out of their leadership positions, the House Democrats will have brand new leaders in almost all of their top roles. While this is unlikely to cause the same problems that the GOP is dealing with, there is still likely to be growing pains. Assuming the new leadership is able to keep their caucus together on key votes (historically not a strength of the Democratic Party), they could wield significant influence in a closely divided chamber. In one hypothetical scenario: Republican leadership, wanting to pass a yearly budget to avoid a government shutdown, may have to trade funding levels or policy riders to secure Democratic votes for passage because the full GOP Caucus won’t support the proposed budget language. But will Republican House leaders be willing to work across the aisle to pass key legislation? Time will tell.
Looking at the Senate, little is likely to change. With only a slightly expanded Democrat majority, Senate Republicans will still be in a strong position to influence how the chamber operates due to how the Senate works, which provides significant influence to the minority party. As well, the Democrat senators sitting on the political divide (ie: Senator Manchin (D-WV) and Senator Sinema (D-AZ)) are likely to still command much influence on key votes. We can expect the Senate to change very little and it will remain a legislative bottleneck.
In short, we are likely to see a very divided Congress for the next two years. Recent history says that does not bode well to getting much done. In one specific case, we can expect the annual budget process to be even more difficult than it has been in recent years.
Speaking of the budget, what does this mean for the rest of 2022 (ie: the lame duck session) and finalizing the Fiscal Year 2023 (FY23) budget? The typical political calculus would be that both sides would want to clear the deck this calendar year, so that the new Congress can focus on new items next year. That would mean finalizing the FY23 budget before the end of the year. However, there is a possibility that political calculus doesn’t hold; we’re already hearing rumblings that Congress may need to punt on the budget until next calendar year due to all the items on the lame duck session’s to-do list. Should that happen, it would mean we could expect FY23 to not be finalized until March, at the earliest.
Finally, what does this mean for science policy and research funding? With regard to policy issues that affect the research community, we shouldn’t see too much change. Frank Lucas (R-OK) is expected to become the chair of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee; he has been a staunch ally of scientific research, with helping to champion the early parts of what became the Chips and Science Act. It’s likely we will see more efforts on research security and competitiveness with China on the committee’s agenda, but most things shouldn’t change too much.
With regard to annual funding, the outlook is less good. As shown with finalizing the FY23 budget, we can expect delays, and long delays at that. The dreaded year-long continuing resolution, where Federal agency accounts are funded at the previous year’s levels, could be even more likely over the next two years. But if the budget is handled at some point, it is hard to tell if we will get the Chips and Science Act funding levels, or a repeat of last year’s final budget numbers. Republicans are much more bullish on increasing defense spending, while keeping non-defense accounts flat (or cut them); we should expect that to continue and we will need to modify what we emphasize in our message to lawmakers accordingly.
Still many unknowns exist. We’ll have to see how this Congress handles the FY23 budget in the next few weeks; that will give us our first indication of what to expect. After that, the 2023 calendar year is likely to see a lot of political gridlock. And, of course, the 2024 Presidential Election is already gearing up. We’re in for a long two years.