Government Relations

Government Relations Legislative Update

Government Relations Legislative Update

Updates on state and federal issues relating to the UW System.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Federal Update for November 5

Congressional Session

Congress is out of session and will meet again for legislative business on Monday, November 15, for the lame-duck session.

 The House adjourned on September 30.  The Senate finished its legislative business on September 29, but it has reconvened every few days in pro forma session to keep President Obama from making recess appointments during the period before the lame-duck session.
The 112th Congress will be seated in January.

The 2010 Elections

The Republicans in the House have gained the majority, while the Democrats maintain control of the Senate.  However, given the significant changes that occurred on Tuesday – that brought the departure of both freshmen and long-tenured members of Congress – there will be wholesale change when the Congress convenes, including new congressional leadership, new composition of House and Senate committees, and correspondingly new legislative priorities.
The Democrats retain the Senate majority.  Many of the newly-elected Republican members of the Senate campaigned on platforms of renewed fiscal discipline.  It is expected that these members will be closely aligned with some of the Senate's more ardent budget hawks.  In a new twist, new members may see an increase in power, as the 112th Congress will have 40 Senators serving their first term, including newly-elected Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson.

The reality is this is the third change election in three cycles.  In 2006, the Democrats won control of Congress from the Republicans.  In 2008, the Democrats won the White House from the Republicans.  This year, the Republicans won control of the House from the Democrats.  We remain a 50-50 nation where moods of the moment impact the outcome.  Our times, as dramatic and tumultuous as they seem, are not unprecedented and the environment is not entirely unknown.  There are many examples where the Congress and the President found ways to work together and produce meaningful legislation.
Wisconsin Leadership

Congressman Paul Ryan is expected to take over as Chair of the House Budget Committee.  Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner has a good chance, although not certain, of assuming the chairmanship of Science and Technology.

U.S. Senator Herb Kohl is expected to remain on the Appropriations Committee, where he chairs the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee.

Outlook for the 112th Congress

Decreased spending and deficit reduction are clear mandates for House Republicans, who will attempt to return non-defense discretionary spending levels to pre-TARP, pre-stimulus FY2008 levels.  Paul Ryan, the likely Chairman of the House Budget Committee, is a budget hawk and not afraid to propose bold cuts in spending.  He will also look for ways to advance the debate on entitlement reform.  Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare now account for nearly three-fifths of the total budget.  It is unclear whether mandatory spending programs will be tackled.  Also, one can assume the GOP views the repeal of Health Care Reform – either in total or piecemeal – as a key mandate.  


At this time, it is difficult to know whether the FY2011 Appropriations measures will be completed in the upcoming lame-duck session.  Considerable progress has been made by staff on developing conference agreements to lay the groundwork for completion of omnibus legislation, but it is still unclear whether there are the votes for a package.

When Congress convenes in the 112th Congress, the first order of business is likely to be a recessions bill, which, at a minimum, will target any unspent ARRA funds.  A bill cutting as much as $100 billion from FY2011 non-defense discretionary pending also remains a possibility.


The likelihood of a House ban on earmarks continues to grow.  Under Republican leadership, it is assumed that the ban will continue in 2012, an election year.  The Senate is less clear; however, differing practices in the House and Senate create substantial hurdles for conference negotiations.  

Education and Research

The focus on cutting spending will make it difficult to increase funding for research and higher education in the FY2011 appropriations package, which Congress will take up in the lame-duck session that begins November 15, and could add impetus for the President to cut spending further in his FY2012 budget.

In the 112th Congress, the Administration's priorities include reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  Also anticipated are battles over funding levels for federal programs like Pell Grants and Head Start.

(AAU, Cornerstone Government Affairs and the UWSA Office of Federal Relations contributed to this report.)