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November 16, 2020

What to Expect in Washington (November 16)

The uncertainty over control of the Senate given January 5 runoffs in two Georgia races, combined with echoes of the November 3 elections — Democrats underperformed compared to pre-election polling and lost seats while retaining control of the House, and some suggest that President-elect Joe Biden does not have a clear policy mandate — is leaving the congressional agenda for early 2021 and beyond unclear. Close party ratios in Congress and the president's party historically losing seats in the midterm elections leaves the 2022 elections looming on the horizon.

story in the November 15 Washington Post said, "Biden's allies say the platform on which he campaigned should not be counted out, not least because he retains the ability to govern through executive action, as did Trump and President Barack Obama. And depending on what happens in the coming months, they expect at minimum attempts to craft legislation early next year on coronavirus response and infrastructure." That is consistent with House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal's (D-MA) comment from last week that Democrats could act early next year on "stimulus and infrastructure and climate change simultaneously." Biden has advocated the job-creating potential of infrastructure and green energy investment.

The Post story suggested that:

- Republicans, particularly Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), "are likely to try to dampen any early Biden successes, since they feel confident that control of the House and the Senate is within their grasp;" and

- liberal Democrats, particularly in the House, are likely to push for votes on progressive economic ideas, which will create tension with moderates who "won office by promising to act independently of the Democratic Party" and fear policy labels like "defund the police" and "socialism" either espoused by some in the party or cast upon them by Republicans.

A November 14 Wall Street Journal story said Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) — who suggested Democrats were united in the election against Affordable Care Act (ACA) repeal and President Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic, and in favor of economic opportunity, but has distanced himself from more aspirational liberal priorities — "will be powerful next year. His willingness to side with Republicans makes him one of a small number of senators who could help determine the fate of Mr. Biden's agenda in a closely divided Senate."

The New York Times (NYT) November 15 observed, "the election delivered a split decision" and "leaders in both camps are acknowledging that voters seem to have issued not a mandate for the left or the right." The story said both parties are confronting their futures, with some moderate Democrats eager to disassociate from labels of "socialism" and defunding the police that the party has been associated with and hurt by. For Republicans, there is the question of President Trump's lingering influence: Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) said Trump "is an important voice but not the dominant voice in party," and listed other influential Republicans like Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley. Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), who is up for re-election in 2022, said, "It's President Trump's supporters' party … That's a group of people I think the Republican Party wants to hang onto."

Coronavirus relief — The House is back in session this week and will hold leadership elections. There have been no signs of progress on a bipartisan coronavirus relief that can move before the end of the year. President Trump tweeted over the weekend, "Congress must now do a Covid Relief Bill. Needs Democrats support. Make it big and focused. Get it done!"

Another NYT story, from November 14, said, "Biden must decide whether to push Democratic leaders to cut a quick deal on a package much smaller than they say is needed or to hold out hope for a larger one after he takes office."

Health - Moderna announced this morning that its vaccine candidate against COVID-19 showed an efficacy of 94.5%.

Tax — Tax Notes reported, "Lafayette G. 'Chip' Harter III, Treasury deputy assistant secretary for international tax affairs, confirmed to Tax Notes on November 13 that he will retire November 30."

The House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee will hold a hearing with Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Charles Rettig on Friday, November 20, 2020 at 10:00 a.m. EST.

Today (2:00 p.m. ET) is the EY Webcast, "Election 2020: Now. Next. Beyond." What do the first 100 days of a President-elect Biden, as recognized by the Associated Press, administration look like as he shapes the US legislative and regulatory environment on a range of issues affecting workers, companies and the economy? On this webcast, EY executives will discuss the key issues during these unprecedented times that will have a lasting impact on you and your business now, next and beyond. Register.


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For additional information concerning this Alert, please contact:
Washington Council Ernst & Young
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