Outlook for 116th Congress: Infrastructure, Climate, and Trade

Outlook for 116th Congress: Infrastructure, Climate, and Trade

This piece was originally published in the January/February 2019 issue of electroindustry.

When the 116th Congress convenes on January 3, 2019, NEMA Members will face a two-party federal legislature for the first time since 2013 when Democrats held a majority in the U.S. Senate. Democrats’ new majority in the House of Representatives, coupled with Republicans’ majority in the Senate, presents exciting challenges and opportunities as we work to achieve advocacy objectives of the Association as well as specific product groups.

We expect the House Democratic majority to spend significant amounts of time in 2019 in three areas of concern to NEMA: trade policy, climate change, and infrastructure.


Once the U.S.–Mexico–Canada Agreement (USMCA) was signed by President Trump and his Mexican and Canadian counterparts on November 30, attention shifted to Congress and whether legislation to implement the agreement would be approved. Adding pressure to an already charged political atmosphere on trade, President Trump signaled a willingness to withdraw the U.S. from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) by the summer, in part to compel Congress to act quickly on USMCA. NEMA believes the USMCA is a legitimate successor to NAFTA and should be supported, so Congress should approve it expeditiously.


In the area of climate change, House Democrats have been vocal about their intention to accelerate consideration of proposals to address the issue, perhaps by recreating the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. Whether such a committee is established  or not, concerns about climate change will almost certainly receive a higher level of attention in 2019 than in the 115th Congress. In this area and others, Democrats may also use their House majority to conduct vigorous oversight of Administration officials.


Thirdly, and perhaps most significantly for NEMA Members, the topic of America’s infrastructure has been and will continue to be top of mind for many in Congress. Democrats, Republicans, and President Trump have all floated their ideas, but none has made it past the starting gate up to now. NEMA intends to be particularly bold and aggressive in offering the electroindustry’s recommendations in physical, digital, and human/ workforce areas to build an infrastructure that is worthy of the 21st century and supports NEMA Members’ global competitiveness.

NEMA does not envision significant changes to  the priorities pursued by the expanded Senate Republican majority during the 116th Congress. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should continue to reserve time for the consideration of judicial and Administration nominees, while pursuing typical Republican approaches in the areas of tax, trade, and infrastructure.


Finally, the 116th Congress will be hampered by the fact that the 2020 presidential elections are right around the corner. All of the 435 representatives and 33 senators up for re-election will be searching for ways to position themselves favorably with  their constituents. This can help the prospects for legislation, because pressure exists for incumbents to prove their governance skills and abilities to “get things done.” On the other hand, though, elections can bring out the worst in some legislators who see advantages in slowing down the legislative process or opposing constructive proposals for ideological reasons.

Regardless, NEMA will be at the forefront of the debates over proposals affecting the electroindustry.

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