Election 2020 Recap & the Outlook for Additional COVID-19 Relief in the Lame Duck Session

Election 2020 Recap & the Outlook for Additional COVID-19 Relief in the Lame Duck Session

2020 Election Recap

We are nearly a week past the November 3rd election and while we do finally have a President-elect, the makeup of Congress is yet to be determined. As we discuss the future of our affordable housing agenda, let us begin with the presidential race as the administration sets the agenda and tone for policy in the country.

As of this update, the Associated Press (AP) and other media outlets declared former Vice President Joe Biden the winner of the 2020 presidential election with 290 electoral votes. The states of Georgia (16 electoral votes), North Carolina (15 electoral votes), and Alaska (3 electoral votes) still have not been called, but the outcome was declared on Saturday, November 7th when Pennsylvania (20 electoral votes) went to Mr. Biden. As you know, the Housing Advisory Group is a non-partisan organization but from a policy perspective this is a positive result for us. The President-elect has a very robust affordable housing and economic development agenda which closely mirrors our own. After the nomination was secured, the Biden campaign established a number of policy committees. Members of the HAG and colleague organizations played a significant role on the Housing and Community Development policy committee.

The President-elect has made it clear by his Build Back Better agenda that he intends on investing significantly in the country’s infrastructure and communities. Regarding affordable housing, the incoming administration’s priorities include increasing production and making housing more assessable and available to very-low and low-income households. Our top priorities of fixing the 4% LIHTC, increasing the availability of 9% LIHTCs, and making it easier to construct housing in communities across the country are shared by the incoming administration. In addition, the Biden administration will likely seek greater resources for HUD programs including tenant and project-based vouchers, veterans housing, RAD and public housing.

The current election tally in the Senate is 48 Republicans and 48 Democrats, with races yet to be determined in Alaska and North Carolina, and the two seats in Georgia headed to a January 5th runoff. It is expected that the Alaska and North Carolina seats will be retained by the Republicans so the balance of power in the Senate comes down to the two Georgia seats. If the Democrats win both, it will be a 50/50 Senate with Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) becoming Majority Leader because Democrats control the White House. Should Republicans win one or both seats, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will remain Majority Leader with a 51/49 or 52/48 seat majority.

Under a Republican-controlled Senate, Leader McConnell will play a key role in opposing or advancing various elements of the new Administration’s agenda. Following President Obama’s election, Senator McConnell used his power in the Senate to limit Democratic accomplishments. It is worth noting, however, that during the Obama years, Senator McConnell also served as a dealmaker when he worked with then-Vice President Biden to extend some of the Bush-era tax cuts and successfully avoid the “fiscal cliff” in 2012. President-elect Biden has worked well across the aisle both as Vice President and as a U.S. Senator. We expect he will work hard to bring Senate Republicans to the table to discuss the administration’s agenda.

With respect to our agenda on the affordable housing credit, we have strong support from key Senate lawmakers. Senator Schumer, who as either the Majority Leader in a Senate controlled by the Democrats or as Minority Leader should the Republicans retain control, has been very supportive of the LIHTC. And, we are well-positioned with Senate Finance Committee leaders. Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID) is expected to take the chair of the Senate Finance Committee should Republicans control the Senate, and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) will either chair the Finance Committee should Democrats gain control or will continue as the ranking member of the Committee under a Republican regime. As the chair of the Senate Banking Committee, Senator Crapo has been very supportive of affordable housing initiatives, and would be enormously helpful as either chair or ranking member of the Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over LIHTC and private activity bond issues. As the lead Democrat on the Finance Committee, Senator Wyden has supported Senator Maria Cantwell’s (D-WA) affordable housing tax credit legislation and has also introduced affordable housing legislation of his own.

On the House side, a number of races have yet to be called. Democrats are expected to retain control but with a much thinner margin — losing between seven and perhaps as many as 11 seats. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is expected to remain Speaker, but likely will face growing pressure from House progressives to move aggressive House bills that stand no chance to move through a Republican-controlled Senate.

We are fortunate to have strong bipartisan House support for the affordable housing credit, including from Speaker Pelosi and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA). Reps. Suzan Del Bene (D-WA) and Jackie Walorski (R-IN), our lead House sponsors, were re-elected and will continue their memberships on the Ways and Means Committee.

Outlook for Additional COVID-19 Relief in Lame Duck Session

This month, Congress will return for a Lame Duck session that could produce another round of COVID-19 relief. Leader McConnell has indicated he will enter into negotiations with Speaker Pelosi and the White House now that the election has passed, but suggested legislation should be narrowly targeted based on promising reports on a COVID-19 vaccine. It is not clear if the Republican Senate majority is willing to support any increase above what Senate Republicans have proposed thus far, and the Speaker has made it clear she is not willing to exclude monies to address the pandemic — including critical aid to the states. Both sides seem amenable to including additional rounds of stimulus checks and enhanced unemployment benefits at some level and providing additional resources for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Unfortunately, Senator McConnell has not included funding in the Republican bills for rental/forbearance assistance.

It remains to be seen whether Congress and the Administration can reach an agreement on COVID-19 relief, either as a stand-alone bill or perhaps as part of the funding negotiations which must be resolved by December 11th. The wild card is the incoming administration. Senator McConnell may want to come to an agreement with the Trump administration that is more palatable to his conference before the Biden administration takes office on January 20th. The incoming administration, which is already formulating a CARES/recovery package, will have priorities much more in line with the House Democrats. With growing pressure from home on all Members of Congress, including Senate Republicans, it may be more of a challenge to rebut a COVID-19 package coming from the new administration.

We, along with our colleagues in the ACTION campaign steering committee, are working with our House and Senate champions on both the lame duck session strategy and the housing bill in the next Congress. Stay tuned for updates on our progress and thank you again for all you do to advance our agenda.

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