Congress Returns for Lame Duck Session, Begins Organizing

Congress returns to Washington this week for the first time since last week’s historic elections. Lawmakers are returning to a new reality that many did not see coming, with the election of Donald Trump as the next President and the Republicans maintaining a stronghold in both chambers of Congress.

Following the elections, Republicans maintain a narrowed majority in the House and Senate. The Senate margins sit at 51 Republicans to 48 Democrats, with a run-off race in Louisiana scheduled for December. In addition, and as expected, Republicans held onto control of the House, with 239 Republicans to 193 Democrats, though Democrats narrowed the margin by picking up 5 seats so far, with some still too close to call. Notable losses include Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, who lost his seat to Democrat Tammy Duckworth; Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), a member of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee; and House appropriators Mike Honda (D-CA) and David Jolly (R-FL).

Three newly elected members of the House will be sworn in this week, rather than in January with the rest of their freshman class, because their seats have previously been vacated. This includes Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI), who will fill the late Mark Takai’s seat, James Comer (R-KY), who will fill fellow Republican Ed Whitfield’s seat following his resignation in September, and Dwight Evans (D-PA), who will fill Chaka Fattah’s (D-PA) seat following his June resignation.

It will be some time before committee assignments for the 115th Congress will be made. Below is an early look at the committees of interest to the COSSA community and number of seats currently vacated following the elections.

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At the top of the agenda for the next few weeks is what to do about the FY 2017 spending bills, which remain undone. The current continuing resolution (CR) expires on December 9. Unsurprisingly, lawmakers are split on the endgame strategy. Some Republicans are pushing to complete the appropriations bills before the end of the calendar year, thereby allowing the next Congress to start fresh, while others would like to punt them to 2017 so as to dodge any final negotiations with President Obama. Either way, Congress must take some form of action by December 9 to avoid a government shutdown.

Another task for the lame duck session is getting organized for next year. House and Senate Republicans and Democrats are holding leadership elections this week. While we expect Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) to keep the Speaker’s gavel and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to remain as Minority Leader in the House, and Mitch McConnell to stay on as Majority Leader in the Senate, there could be some surprises as lawmakers battle for other positions.

Stay tuned to COSSA’s coverage of the 2016 elections for the latest developments and analysis of what this all means for the social science research community.

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Posted in Issue 22 (November 15), Update, Volume 35 (2016)

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