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Results of the Midterm Elections on Environmental Health

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

The 2022 midterm elections are finally over. And we know the results, mostly.

The U.S. Senate will remain in control of the Democratic Party, having at least 50 seats and the vote of Vice President Kamala Harris to break any ties. The runoff election in Georgia between Senator Raphael Warnock (D) and challenger Herschel Walker (R) will have no effect on party control.

The U.S. House of Representatives changed hands to the Republican Party, having won the necessary 218 seats to control this branch of Congress. The party may gain a few more seats as ballots are still being counted, but they have secured enough for Republican control over the next 2 years.

How will a divided Congress affect environmental health?

The foremost thing Congress does is tax and spend. The taxing part will have little impact on environmental health but the spending part will.

Fiscal Year 2023 Federal Budget

The federal fiscal year (FY) begin on October 1, meaning FY 2023 is already a month overdue. Congress passed a continuing resolution to keep the government operating until December 16, at which time Congress will have to agree to a budget or pass another continuing resolution.

With the Republicans taking control of the House, they may seek another continuing resolution into March 2023, when they will be in control and may have more leverage over the final FY 2023 budget. Since their majority is slim, however, they may not be able to postpone it until then. And they cannot begin work on the FY 2024 budget until they finalize the FY 2023 budget.

For Congress to negotiate final FY 2023 spending bills in December and start the 118th Congress with a clean slate, leaders first need to agree on a top-line spending number and allocations for the 12 subcommittees. These negotiations over the must-pass annual appropriations bills will involve leaders from both parties in both chambers. These leaders must agree on the amount of total budget, the defense budget, and total domestic spending, in addition to the disposition of contentious policy riders and the makeup of the package of any unrelated legislation attached to the year-end spending deal.

Congress remains under Democratic control and it is unknown how the incoming House Republican majority will affect the final appropriations bills. Republican leaders often need Democrats to supply needed votes to pass bills, giving them substantial leverage. During past Republican majorities, Democrats supplied the majority of votes for the FY 2014, FY 2016, and FY 2017 omnibus appropriations measures, as well as for two of the three FY 2019 "minibus" appropriations bills. They also provided a decisive number of votes for the FY 2015 and FY 2018 omnibuses.

Debt Ceiling

The debt ceiling is the maximum amount of money the federal government is authorized to borrow to meet its existing financial obligations, including entitlements and interest on the national debt. If the government hits the ceiling, it will run out of funds soon after, leading to default on its obligations and the potential of economic calamity.

Congress has the sole authority to raise the statutory debt limit. In December 2021, Congress increased the debt ceiling by $2.5 trillion—only enough to extend it into 2023.

Democrats have a limited time to address the debt limit before the Republicans take control in January 2023. If they fail to take action on the debt ceiling this year, Republicans are expected to leverage the issue to advance their economic priorities. President Biden has stated he will "not yield" to Republican demands in such a scenario, but he may not have much of a choice if he wants to avoid a default.

Environmental Health in the 118th Congress

This scenario sets the stage for the 118th Congress starting in January 2023.

The programs that the previous Congress enacted, such as the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 that both provide substantial funding for climate change and water systems, cannot be reversed by the incoming Congress. Any changes to these laws will require both chambers to agree, along with President Biden, which will not happen.

What the Republicans can do is rescind any money that has yet to be spent or restrict its use. Rep. Representative Buddy Carter (R-GA), who is in the running to be the next chairman of the House Budget committee, introduced a bill in May 2022 that would divert $100 million in unspent pandemic aid from the American Rescue Plan Act toward reducing the nation's more than $30 trillion debt.

Representative Carter also sought to reduce the climate change provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act spending. This reduction was echoed by Representative Jason Smith (R-MO), who is currently the top Republican on the Budget Committee and is in line to head tax policy as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, and Representative Kay Granger (R-TX), who is expected to lead Appropriations.

With these Republican leaders advocating for reductions of spending or retractions of unspent funding for climate change, there could be less money available in the future.

Regarding issues within the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), both Republicans and Democrats have concerns. A report on these shortcomings and FDA's efforts to fix them is due later this year, but this report is unlikely to alleviate the concerns Congress has regarding food safety. With Republicans leading appropriations, they could reduce funding for FDA food safety programs they believe are inadequate or ineffective.

Leadership in the 118th Congress

House and Senate leadership will determine committee assignments and committee leadership for the upcoming 118th Congress. Committee compositions depend on the majority parties in each chamber, the ratio of the majority to minority, leadership negotiations, and House and Senate leadership elections.

Republicans, with their majority, will chair every House committee. Democratic committee chairs, although in the minority, will be instrumental in advancing their legislative agenda items out of committee and onto the floor. Unlike this year, however, Democrats will not be able to look to the budget reconciliation process to force a showdown with Republicans over their spending and tax priorities.

The potential chairs for committees key to environmental health:

House Appropriations Committee
Majority: Representative Kay Granger (R-TX)
Minority: Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT)

House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies
Majority: Representative Tom Cole (R-OK)
Minority: Unknown

House Ways and Means Committee
Majority: Representative Vern Buchanan (R-FL), Representative Adrian Smith (R-NE), or Representative Jason Smith (R-MO)
Minority: Representative Richard Neal (D-MA)

Senate Appropriations Committee
Majority: Senator Susan Collins (R-ME)
Minority: Senator Patty Murray (D-WA)

Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies
Majority: Unknown
Minority: Unknown

Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions
Majority: Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
Minority: Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) or Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA)

Senate Budget Committee
Majority: Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) or Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
Minority: Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA)

State Ballot Measures

As the last Government Affairs blog mentioned, there were three major state initiatives on energy and the environment during this election, passing in New York and Rhode Island and failing in California. New York and Rhode Island voters approved ballot measures to authorize the issue of bonds to address climate change.
New York will issue up to $4.2 billion in bonds after voters approved Proposal 1 by a 68% to 32% margin. The New York League of Conservation Voters backed the proposal and stated it was the largest environmental bond act in the state's history. Under the initiative, $1.5 billion would go to climate change mitigation, $1.1 billion for restoration and flood risk reduction, $650 million for open space land conservation and recreation, and $650 million for water quality improvement and resilient infrastructure.
  • $500 million to electrify school buses;
  • $400 million for green building projects;
In Rhode Island, voters approved $50 million in bonds for environmental and recreational purposes by a 66.8% to 33.2% margin. The package had the support of Governor Dan McKee and other state legislative leaders.

Of the $50 million, $16 million would go to help cities and towns improve the resiliency of infrastructure, vulnerable coastal habitats, and restore rivers and stream floodplains. Another $12 million would be used for the construction of a state-of-the-art carbon-neutral education center and event pavilion at the Roger Williams Park and Zoo.

California rejected Proposition 30, which would have funded infrastructure for zero-emissions vehicles and a wildfire prevention initiative through additional income taxes imposed on top-earning Californians.

For more information on the results of the 2022 election on environmental health, please contact Doug Farquhar, NEHA director of Government Affairs.