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Following several contentious U.S. House election results and two key U.S. Senate runoff elections in Georgia, the federal congressional elections have been decided, and the 117th Congress has begun its legislative session.

As the new administration tackles the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, as well as many of its priority issues—some of which directly affect the industry—the 117th Congress will play a vital role in the administration’s ability to act on its campaign promises for the next two years.  

Georgia Runoff Election Results

On Jan. 5, 2021, Georgia voters returned to the polls following indecision on Nov. 3, 2020, regarding whether Republican U.S. senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler would retain their seats or lose them to Democratic opponents Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, respectively.

Democratic U.S. Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock were declared winners of the two Georgia runoff elections on Jan. 6. Around 1 a.m. ET, Rev. Warnock was the projected victor in the Senate special runoff election over appointed U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R). At press time, Rev. Warnock’s lead was 64,488 votes out of a current turnout of 4,424,426 ballots with a projected 98% of the vote reporting, a margin of 1.4% (50.7% - 49.3%). Around 4 p.m. ET, documentary filmmaker and 2018 House candidate Ossoff was declared the winner against incumbent Sen. David Perdue (R), giving Democrats the 50 senators they need to gain control of the Senate. At press time, Ossoff led Sen. Perdue by 27,075 votes of 4,419,407 ballots counted, a margin of 0.62% (50.31% – 49.69%). 

As the special election winner, Rev. Warnock will stand again for election to a full six-year term in 2022.  Sen. Johnny Isakson (R) was elected to this seat in 2016 but resigned due to health reasons at the end of 2019. Gov. Brian Kemp (R) appointed Loeffler to replace Sen. Isakson to serve until the outcome of the special election, which determines who would hold the office for the balance of Isakson’s initial term in 2022. Ossoff won the in-cycle seat, gaining a six-year term and will stand for reelection in 2026.  

The election of Ossoff and Warnock marks the first African American senator to represent Georgia, the first time two Democratic senators to represent the state since 1992, and an even split in the Senate with 50 Republicans, 48 Democrats and 2 independent senators who caucus with Democrats. 

These Democratic victories in the two runoff campaigns, made necessary under a Georgia election law that requires majority support to win office, will effectively clinch the narrowest possible majority for Democrats in the U.S. Senate, allowing for command of both chambers of the 117th Congress after retaining control of the U.S. House of Representatives after initially winning the lower chamber in 2018. 

As President Joe Biden prepared for his first day in office on Jan. 20, Vice President Kamala Harris assumed the role of president of the evenly divided Senate and can cast tie-breaking votes on priority legislation, giving Democrats functional authority of the upper chamber. 

Congress by the Numbers

For the fourth time in U.S. history, the Senate faces its narrowest possible majority, and Democrats will maintain control of the Senate for the 117th Congress. As a result, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) will take over as majority leader from Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ken.), who has served as majority leader since 2015.

In the House, the Democrats’ slim majority does not bode well for their ability to pass sweeping legislation, as they did in the previous Congress.
Additionally, several Democratic members have maintained key leadership positions within the House, such as Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as speaker of the House and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) as chair of the Committee on Education and Labor. However, due to in-fighting between the progressive and moderate wings of the Democratic party, the administration may have to seek bipartisan support to accomplish many of its legislative goals.

Looking Ahead: Industry Priorities for Congress 

Many of the major issues that were not resolved in the 116th Congress will likely continue into the 2021-2022 session—specifically, the Democrats’ attempts to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, a $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill and both parties’ hopes to pass additional COVID-19 relief. 

Reintroduced on Feb. 4, 2021, by House Chairman Scott and Senators Schumer and Patty Murray (D-Wa.), the PRO Act (H.R. 842) aims to strip away workers’ free choice in union elections, codify an Obama-era joint-employer standard that threatened small and local businesses, limit independent contractors’ rights, eliminate right-to-work protections and roll back other aspects of the Trump administration’s deregulatory agenda.

This latest version of the PRO Act, which, at the time of writing, has 200 cosponsors, including Republicans Chris Smith (NJ-4) and Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-1), include dozens of radical provisions drastically altering federal labor law and will devastate the economy during an already difficult time. 

Since its introduction in the 116th Congress, various business organizations, hundreds of which are members of the ABC-led Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, have opposed the PRO Act for its violation of privacy rights and diminishment of freedoms for workers and small businesses across the country.

Should the PRO Act reach the Senate in its current state, it will be subject to the 60-vote threshold to be passed on the Senate floor. Though Vice President Harris holds the tie-breaking vote in the chamber and the Biden administration openly supports passage of the PRO Act, Senate Democrats may face hurdles maintaining party support in order to pass this bill.

In July 2020, House Democrats passed H.R. 2, the Moving Forward Act, an infrastructure plan that would have spent more than $1.5 trillion on surface transportation, airport, school, housing, health care, energy, water and broadband infrastructure. However, the bill excluded many critical priorities for the construction industry while implementing numerous anti-merit shop provisions, such as government-mandated project labor agreements and inflationary Davis-Bacon prevailing wage requirements.

Touted as one of one of the Biden administration’s priority issues, passing a comprehensive infrastructure package will need bipartisan support to advance through both chambers and onto the president’s desk. Incorporating the bipartisan provisions included in Senate infrastructure bills during the 116th Congress could lead to passage.

Continuing from the previous Congress, the biggest issue at hand for both chambers will likely be providing additional COVID-19 relief. Trump signed a relief package into law, narrowly avoiding a government shutdown, at the end of the 116th Congress. The legislation, which combines $900 billion in COVID-19 aid with government funding through September 2021, was passed by large majorities in both houses of Congress on Dec. 21.

Through the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, the construction industry received roughly 12% of PPP loans, totaling more than $65 billion in relief. Fortunately, the relief package most recently signed into law included an additional $284 billion for the PPP, critical tax deductibility of these forgivable loans, funding to allow the hardest-hit small businesses to receive a second forgivable PPP loan and expansion of loan eligibility to certain 501(c)(6) organizations.  

As the new administration takes on various workplace safety issues related to COVID-19 and will likely reverse many of the former administration’s steps toward deregulation, Congress will play just as important of a role in having a lasting impact on the industry.  

With a razor thin majority in both chambers, Democrats will need Republican buy-in on their legislative priorities. While the question lingers as to whether Senate Democrats will attempt to overrule the 60-vote threshold to end the filibuster and gain a two-year majority rule, the 2022 midterm elections are already on the horizon, and Democrats will certainly face an emboldened Republican effort to take back the House majority lost in 2018 (as well as the newly lost Senate majority). 

And if past is prologue, Republicans will be favored to do just that, as the party occupying the White House typically loses seats in the midterms. 

Editor's Note: This article has been updated from the version printed in the January/February 2021 edition of Construction Executive magazine to reflect the current status of the PRO Act (as of Feb. 11, 2021). 

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