Record turnout as Democrats gain the House and Republicans increase their Senate majority
More than 113 million Americans cast their votes on November 6 to elect the 116th Congress of the United States, marking the first time turnout surpassed 100 million in a midterm election. Within the 116th Congress, more than one-fifth of the members of the House of Representatives will be new and there will be at least six new members of the Senate sworn in when the Congress convenes in January.
Let’s take a closer look at what the House and Senate will look like in 2019.
Note that the graphic above does not reflect the results of Arizona’s Senate race, which was called in favor of Kyrsten Sinema, increasing the number of seats held by Democrats to 47.
Several House races are still undecided or are in ongoing recounts, which will modify final totals.
In addition, two races in the Senate — Florida and Mississippi — are undergoing a recount or will have a runoff. Both races favor Republicans, making the most likely outcome a 53-47 Senate.
What these changes could mean for NGWA priorities
Neither party has an interest in spending the next two years spinning its wheels. Republicans would like to demonstrate they are still driving the agenda in Washington, and Democrats would like to prove they can get things done in the House. This environment provides an opportunity to pursue bipartisan initiatives like infrastructure investment. This could mean there are opportunities to invest in water infrastructure, address PFAS contamination, and boost water supply sustainability through initiatives like managed aquifer recharge.
President Donald J. Trump indicated infrastructure and some environmental initiatives offer opportunities for collaboration with House Democrats. However, there will no doubt be a flurry of investigations looking into issues stemming from Democrats helming the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, but hopefully those do not hinder efforts to pass bipartisan initiatives that will get through the Senate and on to the president’s desk.
Given the comprehensive tax reform bill that passed in 2018 and the likelihood a Farm Bill could be completed in the lame duck session, the 116th Congress will have room on its agenda to handle other major initiatives like fixing the Highway Trust Fund, comprehensive energy legislation, immigration reform, and campaign finance reform. Each would be a huge undertaking, requiring bipartisan compromise that could be tarnished if January brings increased rancor between the parties.
What comes next?
Because the House will change hands in January, the lame duck session of Congress will feature a flurry of activity, as Republicans in the House work to pass legislation they drafted — rather than turning over that responsibility to Democrats in the next Congress. This bodes well for moving the Farm Bill through Congress, which is currently in conference.
The Farm Bill currently contains numerous provisions NGWA has championed throughout the 115th Congress, including support for rural infrastructure and conservation efforts to ensure groundwater remains a reliable source of groundwater for drinking and irrigation applications.
The newly elected Congress heads to Washington the week of November 12 with the Republicans scheduled to hold leadership elections on November 14 and Democrats scheduling theirs for December. With Paul Ryan (Wisconsin) retiring, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (California) is anticipated to become Minority Leader in the next Congress, though he will face a challenge from House Freedom Caucus leader Jim Jordan (Ohio). Nancy Pelosi (California) is favored to become Speaker of the House, although other members of Congress have not ruled out challenging her for the gavel.
Beyond Washington, state ballot measures were also decided
While elections at the federal level tend to take up a lot of the television airtime, 18 new governors will be sworn in (11 Democrats and seven Republicans). In addition, more than 155 ballot measures were voted on in states across the country, including several that could impact the way groundwater resources are handled. Here are the results of the key groundwater-related issues voted on at the state level.
California Proposition 3: Failed
Authorized $8.877 billion in bonds for water infrastructure, groundwater storage, surface water storage, dam repairs, and watershed protection including habitat restoration. The measure specified specific amounts as to how the bonds would have been distributed for various projects.
Colorado Proposition 112: Failed
Would have required new oil and gas development activities, including fracking, have to be at least 2,500 feet from occupied buildings such as schools, homes and hospitals, as well as "vulnerable" areas like parks, playgrounds, and drinking water sources. The measure would not have applied to oil and gas development on federal lands.
Connecticut Amendment 2: Passed
Requires public hearings on all legislation to authorize the transfer, sale, or disposal of state-owned properties, including state parks, forests, and conserved lands. The measure also requires a two-thirds majority vote in the General Assembly to authorize the sale, transfer, or disposal of the public lands.
Maine Question 2: Passed
Authorizes $30 million for wastewater infrastructure improvements.
Montana Initiative 186: Failed
The initiative would have required the state's Department of Environmental Quality to deny permits for new hard rock mines "unless the reclamation plan provides clear and convincing evidence that the mine will not require perpetual treatment of water polluted by acid mine drainage and other contaminants."
Rhode Island Question 3: Passed
Will authorize $47.3 million in bonds for environmental, recreational, and water projects. The funds would go to projects aimed at improving coastal habitats, ensuring clean water, dam safety, and brownfield remediation.
NGWA needs your help!
With dozens of new members in the 116th Congress, those representing you may be different come January 1. Don’t miss an opportunity to introduce yourself and engage on issues critical to groundwater professionals at the 2019 NGWA Groundwater Fly-In on March 5-6, 2019. More information, including details on how to register, is available at www.ngwa.org/flyin.
In addition, NGWA will be convening groups to work on several groundwater-related policy issues such as PFAS-contamination issues and groundwater recharge throughout 2019. If you are interested in getting involved in these or any state-level government affairs efforts, please contact NGWA Government Affairs Director Lauren Schapker at firstname.lastname@example.org.