The Official Online Weekly Newspaper of NAHB
As the 111th Congress reconvened on Nov. 15 in a post-election lame-duck session to complete unfinished business on an omnibus appropriations package funding the government in fiscal year 2011 and to work on extending the expiring Bush tax cuts, lawmakers were already looking ahead to a vastly changed political landscape.
Just four years after the Democrats swept into power in both chambers of Congress, Republicans handily recaptured control of the House and made major gains in the Senate on election night.
With Democrats still in control of the White House and no party anywhere near a 60-vote filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, it remains to be seen if the 112th Congress will be marked by total gridlock or whether the two sides can find room to compromise on the issues of the day.
In any case, NAHB will be reaching out to every member of Congress to educate them about the association’s legislative priorities and build bipartisan support wherever possible.
Needing to capture a minimum of 218 House seats to gain control of the chamber, Republicans on Nov. 2 won at least 240 seats, a net gain of 61, with five races remaining undecided as this issue of Nation’s Building News went to press. Democrats dropped from 255 House seats prior to the election down to 190 seats.
By a narrow margin of 53 to 47, Senate Democrats remain in power despite losing six seats to Republicans — Rep. John Boozman (Ark.) and Ron Johnson (Wis.) ousted incumbents, while Dan Coats (Ind.), North Dakota Governor John Hoeven, Rep. Mark Kirk (Ill.) and Pat Toomey (Pa.) won open seats.
The GOP’s bid to wrest control of the chamber fell short when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) held off a stiff challenge from Republican Sharron Angle and Democrats Chris Coons and Joe Manchin won open seats in Delaware and West Virginia, respectively.
One Senate race is still too close to call. In Alaska, Republican incumbent Lisa Murkowski lost her primary bid to challenger Joe Miller and ran for office in a write-in campaign. Murkowski is currently leading Miller and Democrat Scott McAdams is running a distant third, guaranteeing that whoever prevails will caucus with the Republicans.
Republicans also posted huge gains in the 37 gubernatorial elections, picking up six statehouse seats for a 29-to-19 majority, with one Independent. The outcome in Minnesota has still not been decided. This year’s governor’s races played an especially important role given the executive control of the states in the 2010 federal redistricting process.
BUILD-PAC, NAHB’s political action committee, contributed to 27 Senate races, winning 23 of them for an 85% success rate. In the House of Representatives, BUILD-PAC-supported candidates won 286 of 328 races for a winning percentage of 87%. BUILD-PAC is also involved in a few races that are still too close to call. Overall, BUILD-PAC won 309 of 355 decisive races, for an 87% success rate.
The post-election session of Congress is tentatively scheduled to run this week and during the week of Nov. 29.
An Uncertain Lame Duck Agenda
While funding the federal government and expiring tax cuts are the top priorities, scores of other items may potentially be on the agenda. However, it is often turns out that little gets accomplished in lame duck sessions, particularly when one party wins control of one or both chambers of Congress, as occurred during this election. With political tempers frayed and many Democrats having just lost their jobs, it is uncertain how productive this post-election session will be.
Nevertheless, lawmakers face a mountain of unfinished business. They must choose whether to tackle several contentious issues such as whether to provide a temporary “patch” for the Alternative Minimum Tax, extend a host of popular tax breaks that expired last December but are usually renewed annually, give seniors a special $250 Social Security payment, extend unemployment benefits and reimburse physician Medicare payments. Action on these and many other outstanding issues may be deferred to the incoming Congress.
Meanwhile, NAHB’s top priority is restoring credit for housing production and that will be the association’s main focus as the lame duck session of Congress resumes. Shortly before adjourning to campaign for the midterm elections, lawmakers passed legislation that will provide $30 billion in capital to community banks to expand small business lending. Unfortunately, the fund established under the law does not allow for construction loans to be made to small builders.
Through intensive lobbying and grassroots efforts among the NAHB federation, the House moved rapidly to rectify the situation. It approved H.R. 6191, legislation that allows small home building firms equal access to the new lending fund. H.R. 6191 was also introduced in the Senate, but the chamber adjourned on Sept. 29 before the bill could come to a vote.
During the lame duck session, NAHB will do all in its power to urge the Senate to approve H.R. 6191 to help the industry rebound, create jobs and move the economy forward.
Looking ahead to the 112th Congress, NAHB will be reaching out to both sides of the political aisle to seek additional solutions to the current lending crisis and urge Congress to call on federal banking regulators to reduce regulatory restrictions on acquisition, development and construction credit and rein in overzealous bank examiners.
To read H.R. 6191, click here and enter the bill number in the box at the center of the page.
For more information, e-mail Michael Strauss at NAHB, or call him at 800-368-5242 x8252.