The Democratic Party’s successful election night takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives will return Washington to an era of divided government in 2019. This marks the fourth mid-term election in a row that at least one chamber has flipped partisan control and brings to an end an eight-year leadership run for Republicans in the House.
As expected, a favorable map – where Republicans defended eight seats and Democrats had to protect 25 – in the Senate allowed for Republicans to pick up seats in the upper chamber. The majority is 52-49, but could an additional three seats after final races are called in Florida, Arizona and Mississippi.
While there will be no shortage of spin from both sides about what the 2018 elections mean for each party and its prospects in the 2020 elections, ARTBA is focused on what the makeup of the next Congress means for efforts to advance an infrastructure package that leaders in both parties have advocated since the 2016 election and a permanent Highway Trust Fund revenue solution.
House Democrats will theoretically be able to pass legislation without GOP votes due to the chamber’s institutional rules that greatly advantage the majority party. However, the Senate is more complicated. Even with the GOP gains, it will not have the 60-vote super majority needed to bypass the chamber’s rules that empower the minority to stop any legislation with 41 votes—a threshold Democrats will exceed by at least five votes. As such, bipartisan legislation and compromise between House and Senate leaders and President Trump will be necessary to get the simplest of bills enacted, let alone major pieces of legislation.
The end of one election cycle immediately transitions to the next. Not only will the presidential election be on the minds of leaders in Washington, but a similarly difficult Senate map to the one that confronted Democrats in 2018 essentially flips for the GOP in 2020, with 23 Republican seats up for grabs compared to 11 for the Democrats. A House of Representatives with only a likely 5-10 seat majority for Democrats will add increased volatility to a 2020 election where just about any scenario is possible.
While it would be naïve to suggest the 2020 election will not loom over nearly all legislative strategy decisions made by leaders of both parties for the next two years, it does not necessarily portend gridlock across the board. There will be efforts by both parties to showcase not only their ideas and direction for the country, but also their ability to lead and work across the aisle. Of all the major issues before Congress, few can rival the broad bipartisan support that transportation investment and policy reforms have routinely enjoyed as evidenced by the fact that the FAST Act and MAP-21 surface transportation bills were enacted under divided government.
Another key advantage for the federal transportation programs is the looming Highway Trust Fund revenue shortfall and expiration of the federal highway and transit programs in 2020 that will require congressional action of some form in the next two years. Despite the predictions of legislative partisan gridlock and bruised egos following Tuesday’s elections, we are looking at another busy couple of years on the transportation front.