SPECIAL UPDATE: 2006 Mid-Term Elections, Budget Update and Outlook for the New Congress

(Posted 11/21/06)


This update was originally sent out as an e-mail message to AGI's member societies.

The 2006 mid-term elections featured some very tight races and were the most expensive in U.S. history. In the end, the Democrats gained a majority in the House and the Senate, ending the Republican majority control of about 12 years, excluding a brief and slim Democratic majority in the Senate when Jeffords became an Independent in 2001. Pollss indicate that the war in Iraq and corruption in Congress were among the top concerns of voters.

In the House, there are about seven undecided races that still need to be officially certified and two seats, Louisiana's 2nd district and Texas' 23rd district, to be decided by run-off elections in December. The Louisiana race is between the top two democratic candidates, incumbent William Jefferson, who is currently under investigation for several alleged crimes, and state representative, Karen Carter. The Texas race became a non-partisan, "all-up" election in which the March primaries were invalidated and everyone could run because of redistricting issues. In June, the Supreme Court ruled that the re-districting of the 23rd violated the Voting Rights Act. Because the election was open to all comers, the winner was required to win a majority of the vote or face a run-off. Incumbent Henry Bonilla (R) captured only 48.6% and will face former congressman Ciro Rodriguez (D) in a run-off in December. Assuming the other close races go to the current vote leader, the U.S. House of Representatives will consist of 232 Democrats and 203 Republicans, a 58 seat swing from a 29 seat Republican advantage in the 109th to a 29 seat Democratic advantage in the 110th.

The composition of the 33 Senate seats that were up for grabs was not decided until about three days after the elections because of tight races in Montana and Virginia. The Senate will consist of 49 Democrats, 49 Republicans and two Independents. The two Independents, returning Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who lost the Democratic primary and ran as an Independent, and former congressman and always Independent, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, have indicated that they will caucus with the Democrats, giving the party the slimmest majority possible.

The 110th Congress will have at least 64 new faces, eight Democrats, one Republican and one Independent in the Senate and 40 Democrats and 14 Republicans in the House. Women secured at least a net gain of five seats, three in the House and two in the Senate.

There are now 86 women in Congress, 70 in the House and 16 in the Senate, the largest number in history, making up 16% of Congress. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (8th-CA) is set to become the first female Speaker of the House. Speaker-in-waiting Pelosi will become the most powerful woman in U.S. politics based on the fact that she will be third in line for the presidency. Barack Obama, the junior senator from Illinois and among the most popular politicians in the country right now, remains the only African American in the Senate. The two senior senators from Hawaii constitute the only Asian Americans, and Hispanics retained the three seats they have had in the Senate since 2004 with the re-election of Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ). Senators Mel Martinez (R-FL) and Ken Salazar (D-CO) are not up for re-election until 2010. Asian Americans gained one seat in the House while other minorities retained the same total number of representatives.

The change in the majority party from Republican to Democrat in both chambers means that the leadership and staffing of committees will change, and that the Democrats will set the rules and agenda for the next two years. Much of the legislation developed by the Republican Congresses of the past six years may be dropped or perhaps changed and re-introduced, and the Republican President will need to find a way to work with the Democratic Congress.

The 109th Congress began a lame duck session on November 13th, but was unable to complete much work on the budget before they adjourned for a Thanksgiving Day recess. The 109th Congress will return on December 4th to try to complete the fiscal year 2007 (FY07) budget, with nine bills, worth about $460 billion, still to be finalized. Congress extended a continuing resolution on the budget until December 8th. It is very unlikely that there will be enough time to complete nine separate appropriation bills. Possible scenarios for completing the FY07 budget in the lame duck session include combining several bills together and considering only three to four separate bills or combining all nine bills into an omnibus. Neither scenario is strongly favored by policymakers . Any combination of bills would likely require a general one to three percent rescission across all programs to balance the budget. With the passage of time, it is becoming more and more likely that the 109th Congress will not complete part or all of the remaining nine bills. They may end up passing a continuing resolution, extending budget deliberations into January and passing the responsibility for FY07 appropriations to the new 110th Congress. Such an approach may slow down and limit the ability of the new Congress to focus on new legislation and consideration of new appropriations for fiscal year 2008.

Other legislation of interest to the Earth science community, such as offshore drilling, pipeline safety legislation, the re-authorization of the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping program, the NOAA Organic Act and the National Competitiveness Investment Act, which would double the funding for the National Science Foundation over 5 years, are all likely to be stalled. The Senate's offshore drilling bill may have a slim chance of passage, and pipeline safety may move forward because of the recent problems with low-pressure pipelines in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. Congress was able to pass legislation on the nuclear energy treaty with India, a lame duck priority of the President, before adjourning in November.

The 110th Congress will run from January 3, 2007 to January 3, 2009. The Democrats have indicated that energy and education will be top priorities. They would like to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil, eliminate subsidies for oil and gas companies, enhance the development of alternative energy resources, provide relief to consumers for high energy prices and increase conservation, particularly through increasing vehicle gasoline standards. It is also quite likely that any offshore drilling legislation introduced in previous Congresses will not be on the agenda in the 110th, while climate change initiatives may be considered.

With regards to education and science, the Democrats want to make the Research and Development tax credit permanent and allow tax breaks for college tuition. The Higher Education Act, the No Child Left Behind Act and the National Science Foundation are all scheduled for re-authorization in 2007. The 110th Congress may wish to consider these laws and possible changes to these laws in relation to the 20 policy suggestions on research and education provided in the 2005 National Academies (NAS) Report on U.S. innovation and competitiveness entitled "Rising Above the Gathering Storm". The NAS Report generated a bevy of new bills on innovation and competitiveness in the 109th Congress, however, none of these bills came close to passage. While the Democrats do not have a separate platform for science and engineering, they mention the importance of these disciplines in their economic growth platform. In general, the Democrats favor the 20 policy suggestions made in the NAS report, though, exactly how to implement these policies will require further consideration. Regardless of which party is in the majority, Earth science issues related to natural resources and natural hazards, which ultimately affect U.S. economic growth, the vitality of the workforce and security, will remain important in the 110th Congress.

Special update prepared by Linda Rowan, Directer of AGI Government Affairs and Rachel Bleshman, AGI/AAPG Fall 2006 Intern.

Sources: National Journal, Congressional Quarterly, Washington Post, New York Times, E&E Daily, Science, U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives and Thomas.

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program.

Posted November 21, 2006