Issue Update

While vote counting continues in many states and jurisdictions around the country, the early take away for both Republicans and Democrats following yesterday’s election is that results are both positive and negative. Democrats claimed control of the House of Representatives by winning 26 Republican seats, with 23 House races not yet declared. Heading into the night, Democrats were expected to win enough seats to take control of the lower chamber, and they made that prediction a reality. But how large a margin of control Democrats will enjoy remains uncertain as many races are still undecided. In the Senate, Republicans maintained their hold on the upper chamber with control of at least 51 seats, but that margin is likely to increase. Democratic Senators Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) were defeated while Democrats were able to unseat Republican Senator Dean Heller in Nevada. Senate contests in Arizona and Florida remain too close to call at this time. The other uncertainty is Mississippi, where Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) will face former Congressman Mike Espy (D) in a runoff election on November 27.

Anticipating the power shift in the House, FRA highlighted in our policy webinar in September the impact this development will have on the many committees that handle policy issues important to the forest products value chain. Here is a recap of those changes and what we can expect in 2019;

House Agriculture Committee: Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN) is the incoming chairman. Peterson knows forestry and the forest products industry well and has been a strong supporter over the years. In comments this morning, he reiterated his commitment to finalize a Farm Bill before the end of the year. FRA supports a number of provisions now being negotiated as part of the Farm Bill conference committee process, notably language promoting wood construction in taller buildings and federal forest management reform.  

House Energy & Commerce Committee: Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) takes the gavel from Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR). Pallone has not been a supporter of FRA’s policy agenda during his years in Congress and in his role as ranking member on this committee. We will be looking to meet with him and his committee staff on issues related to biomass energy and water quality among other areas. 

House Judiciary Committee: Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) will take over this key panel. As Mr. Nadler represents Manhattan and Brooklyn, FRA has not worked closely with this office but will be focusing on the new chairman and his team in the 116th Congress. 

House Natural Resources Committee: Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) will be the new chairman. Grijalva is not a supporter of active forest management or Endangered Species Act reform. Building Chairman Grijalva’s understanding and appreciation of the forest products supply chain will be an area of focus for our government affairs efforts next year. 

House Transportation & Infrastructure: Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) will chair this panel. While DeFazio was never an enthusiastic supporter of truck weight reform, he does listen, and he appreciates the need to address transportation efficiency and our nation’s infrastructure challenges. Prior to the election, he vowed to make transportation infrastructure investment a top priority as chairman.   

House Ways & Means Committee: Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA) is the incoming chairman for this key committee. We anticipate that Neal will focus on changes to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in his leadership role. 

In the Senate, committee leadership will largely remain the same with the exception of the Senate Finance and Senate Foreign Relations Committees. Both chairmen—Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Bob Corker (R-TN) are retiring. Regarding the Finance Committee, Senator Chuck Grassley may give up his gavel on the Judiciary Committee and take over the Finance Committee, but no decisions have been made yet.

Next week, Members of Congress will return to Washington for what is expected to be a short Lame Duck session of Congress. In the House, there will be leadership elections for Democrats and Republicans. The conventional wisdom is that Democrats will elect their current slate of leaders—Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) as Speaker, Steny Hoyer (D-MD) as Majority Leader and James Clyburn (D-SC) as Majority Whip. On the Republican side, the race for Republican leader will feature Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Jim Jordan (R-OH). Current Republican Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) is expected to run again for that spot. In the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will retain his spot, and Senator John Thune (R-SD) is expected to elevate to Republican Whip, replacing term-limited Senator John Cornyn (R-TX). By elevating in the leadership line, Senator Thune likely will relinquish his post as Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee.

In terms of policy action in the Lame Duck, Congress is expected to finalize negotiations on a Farm Bill. As you know, the current Farm Bill expired on September 30. There was some concern heading into the election that a change in House control would affect the Farm Bill conference committee process, but this morning incoming Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) announced he is fully committed to completing work on a new Farm Bill this year.

Other items on the table include a government funding measure. The federal government is funded through December 7 and so an extension into the new year will be necessary. Also, potentially on the docket is the annual tax extenders ritual, where a package of expired tax provisions—a few related to biomass energy—is considered. 

FRA has scheduled a webinar for Wednesday, November 28 to take a deeper dive into the election results and what it means for us heading into 2019 and beyond. We hope you can join us later this month.