Election year is here. But before we vote in November and after impeachment dominates the first few weeks of 2020, Congress and the administration will likely do battle over a number of issues to gain political favor.
One issue that is guaranteed to dominate Washington is trade. President Trump is the most international trade-oriented president since the Cold War and his intention of remaking the global trading agenda will become a reality at least partially in 2020.
The Senate will almost certainly move forward with the passage of the Trump rewrite of NAFTA, passing the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement.
Transformative shifts in intellectual property rights protections, curtailing currency manipulation to gain trading favor, and moving dispute resolutions to the courts of the country of origin – restoring sovereignty to each of the three nations – are key elements of the deal. About $68.2 billion is expected to be added to the U.S. economy with 176,000 new jobs created, according to a study by the International Trade Commission. This is particularly good news for autoworkers, with the White House saying that 76,000 new auto jobs will be created.
It is also likely that Congress will be presented with and pass a new trade deal with the United Kingdom in the wake of their exit from the European Union on Jan. 31. Followed up with the already negotiated phase one of a deal with Japan, which may need congressional approval, and the possibility of a deal with the EU later in the year, trade is likely to dominate much of the D.C. calendar in 2020.
Ironically, the fast-track trade legislation pushed through Congress by those who backed the TransPacific Partnership means Trump faces a simple majority vote in both houses of Congress, with no filibuster in the Senate, as he finalizes a series of bilateral trade agreements cementing U.S. interests for decades to come.
Another certainty is that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will continue his policy of restoring balance to our nation’s judiciary. Already, in the first three years of the president’s administration, the Senate has confirmed 187 judges, more than one-fifth of the federal judiciary. And this won’t stop. There are 50 more federal judicial vacancies to be filled in 2020.
There will be much discussion of immigration, gun control and tax cuts as politicians jockey for advantage in advance of the election, but don't expect congressional action on these fronts.
Infrastructure is always an election year bipartisan favorite. With many post-impeachment House Democrats looking for accomplishments as they careen toward a potentially hostile electorate, some form of infrastructure deal becomes possible in mid- to late spring. Whether it be a “just throw money at it” bill or the more orderly creation of a private infrastructure bank, it is possible that the current consensus that money does grow on trees will lead to an agreement on funding bridges, roads and other critical technologically and economically significant systems.
Congress may also address the dire state of our nation’s defined benefit pension plans, with a particular emphasis on private-sector union multi-employer pension funds, as well as provide additional support for the underfunded Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp., which backstops the private pension system.
Details are not final, with competing plans in both the House and Senate, but the just passed funding bill spent $6 billion to bail out pension funds covering United Mine Workers that were effectively put underwater by the Obama administration’s war on coal, sets the stage for the debate. This precedent puts pressure on Congress to implement legislation forcing structural reforms for all multi-employer pension plans, including increased transparency for funds’ internal operations, requirements that funds only invest in transparent enterprises based upon Sarbanes-Oxley standards and rules set by the Labor Department, and a focus on returns rather than political or social welfare agendas.
There will be much discussion of immigration, gun control and tax cuts as politicians jockey for advantage in advance of the election, but don't expect congressional action on these fronts. The one exception may be immigration, depending on how the Supreme Court rules on President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy. Congress may choose to enter into this thicket, with any legislation that results likely to anger all sides of the debate.
On top of it all, the Trump team will be ramping up efforts to finalize regulations by mid-April that would protect changes he has made should Democrats win back the White House and gain full control of Congress in November. These actions would ensure that the administration's important regulatory reforms wouldn't be washed away using the same Congressional Review Act the GOP utilized to end more than a dozen Obama regulations adopted late in 2016.
While impeachment and the election will provide the caps for 2020, other issues could make this a generationally transformative year. And if there ends up being a Supreme Court vacancy, the confirmation fight in the Senate will make a WWE steel cage match look like an afternoon tea party.
Pay attention in 2020. There will be more than impeachment and the elections to watch.