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Democrats Win House Majority; Here’s What They’ll Do With It

Government overhaul first legislative item, followed by quick action on Dreamer protections, gun control

Now that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and her party are back in power, they have several legislative priorities they wish to pursue. (Margaret Spencer/ CQ Roll Call)
Now that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and her party are back in power, they have several legislative priorities they wish to pursue. (Margaret Spencer/ CQ Roll Call)

Democrats have been abundantly clear about the top items that would be on their agenda if voters were to put them in the House majority, ranging from a campaign finance overhaul to legislation designed to reduce health care costs. 

Now that the midterm results have confirmed Democrats have won the House, here’s what you can expect with them in control next Congress. 

[Check out the full House election results breakdown on Roll Call’s interactive.]

Rules, government overhaul

Outside of a potential tight floor vote to elect the speaker, one of the first votes of the 116th Congress will be to adopt a new House rules package. 

Democrats have talked about encouraging a more open and bipartisan legislative process, particularly when it comes to allowing amendments to bills, but they haven’t unveiled many specific rules changes they’d plan to implement.

Massachusetts Rep. Jim McGovern, the incoming chairman of the Rules Committee, has been prepping a draft rules package to present to the Democratic Caucus shortly after the House returns next week. 

The goal of the rules package, as well as government overhaul legislation Democrats have been preparing, is to restore public trust in government. They feel that doing so will make it easier to build support for legislative items they hope to pass. 

The central piece of the government overhaul package, which Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi has been touting as a potential HR 1, is changing campaign finance laws designed to reduce the influence of money in politics. 

The omnibus measure is also expected to include updates to ethics and voting rights laws.

Democrats already have several bills ready that could be quickly put into a government overhaul package. Those include the Government by the People Act, a campaign finance overhaul measure designed to incentivize small donations; the DISCLOSE Act, a bill to require public disclosure of super PAC donors; the Voting Rights Advancement Act, a measure expanding the federal government’s ability to monitor state election procedures to prevent discrimination; and the Election Security Act, a bill establishing grants for states to secure their voting systems.

The Senate, which will remain in Republican control, is unlikely to take up the full package, but there are perhaps a few items the two parties could negotiate compromises on, especially if President Donald Trump gets behind them. But more likely than not, the package will become Democratic messaging fodder heading into the 2020 election.

Dreamers, gun control

Other legislative items Democrats plan to move quickly on in the 116th Congress include bills they repeatedly urged House Republicans to bring up during their time in the majority but ignored.

One of those bills, the DREAM Act, would provide legal status with an earned path to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children who are known as Dreamers.

Protecting them has been Democrats’ top immigration policy priority, since Trump announced last year his intention to end the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. His authority to do so has been the subject of ongoing court cases, but Democrats are still eager to pass legislation in case the courts ultimately side with Trump. 

Trump has previously expressed openness to creating a path to citizenship for Dreamers but only in exchange for funding construction of a border wall along the U.S. border with Mexico. He’s since added demands for cuts to legal immigration, a nonstarter for Democrats. 

The DREAM Act is unlikely to advance beyond the House as a standalone, and prospects for a larger deal remain grim unless a court ruling provides a deadline under which Congress must act. 

Even more likely to stall in the Senate is gun control legislation Democrats say they want to pass to strengthen the background check process for firearm purchases. Trump and congressional Republicans have shown zero interest in any bill that could be construed as infringing upon Second Amendment rights. 

Big ticket items

Democrats also have some bigger ticket agenda items they’ve been touting as part of their “For the People” agenda, namely health care and infrastructure legislation.

The top three goals of that agenda are to lower health costs and prescription drug prices, increase pay and drive economic growth by rebuilding the country’s infrastructure and clean up corruption in Washington. 

The latter they plan to achieve through the aforementioned government overhaul package and extensive oversight of the Trump administration. Democrats will likely face an internal debate about how far to go in their oversight efforts, with some members already talking about impeaching Trump and Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh.

Health care was the top issue for Democrats on the campaign trail. They hammered House Republicans for passing legislation that would’ve opened to the door for states to gut protections for pre-existing health conditions.

But Democratic candidates were divided about how best to shore up the health care system for the future. Some just want to strengthen the 2010 law and add a public insurance option to compete with private sector plans, while others want a government-run system like “Medicare for All.”

It’s unlikely that Democrats will spend the next two years hammering out those differences when they won’t have willing partners in the Senate or the White House to increase federal control of the health care system. 

Rather, Democrats are likely to pass smaller changes to the 2010 law and pursue legislation to lower prescription drug prices, something Trump and Republicans have also expressed interest in doing.

Infrastructure is another area that has potential to be a bipartisan undertaking, but Democrats want to spend more federal government dollars than Republicans, who prefer to rely more heavily on private-sector investment.

Democrats will be forced to work with Republicans on appropriations if they want to keep the government funded on time. And they’ll need to work together to approve the new trilateral trade agreement among the U.S., Mexico and Canada.

Other Democratic policy priorities include rolling back the GOP tax cuts for corporations and high-income individuals and renewable, green energy policy changes. 

The vast majority of House Democrats’ agenda is unlikely to be signed into law, but their legislative efforts will show voters what Democrats could accomplish if voters reward them with the Senate and the White House in 2020. 

Watch: Trump Declares Success in the Midterms, Spars With CNN Reporter

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