Speculation rises, as pundits predict what the 116th Congress will accomplish over the next two years. Some say a divided government means only more more gridlock is on the way. Some say there could be more compromise. Whether you’re a glass half full or half empty kind of person, looking at the past can usually help us get a rough picture of the future.
The last time there was a Republican President, a Republican Senate, and a Democratic House was the 99th Congress. Ronald Reagan was president then and during the years of January 1985 – January 1987, Congress passed some very important legislation, despite a divided government.
The 99th Congress passed the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985, which implemented the first binding spending constraints on the federal budget, the Goldwater-Nichols Act, which triggered the most sweeping reorganization of the Department of Defense to date, and the Tax Reform Act of 1986, which simplified the tax code. In addition, COBRA, the medical benefits legislation, a gun control bill – which banned new automatic firearms, and even an immigration bill passed the 99th Congress and were signed into law by President Ronald Reagan.
If you take a look at some of the issues the 99th Congress tackled, you’ll find they’re not far off from what our country is currently debating. A simplification of the tax code, a budget fix, an audit of the pentagon, healthcare, immigration, and even gun control are all considered to be on the table for the 116th Congress.
Mark Twain famously said, “History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes.” Could the 116th Congress and the 99th Congress sing a similar tune?
If both Congresses rhyme, we’re in for a real treat. But, the political rhetoric in our country in the 1980s was much different than it is today, and hyper partisan gridlock will have to be resolved before any chance of sweeping legislation in one area or another is passed into law.
While this week’s Joint Select Committee on Budget and Appropriations Process Reform proposal severely underwhelmed, there will be opportunity for Congress to tackle our major debt driver’s early in the next Congress. Congress will need to pass a debt ceiling hike which will likely accompany a budget deal in early spring. With a divided government and looming $1 tirllin deficits, both sides may just have to reckon with our nation’s abysmal finances and work out a constructive deal.
The Department of Defense’s first audit results since 1992 were recently released, and could act as a tipping point for real effective cost savings reforms on the DoD. The Pentagon, who failed the audit, said they did not expect to pass, but as more details about the audit arise,expect more calls for action on both sides of the aisle.
Americans are still worried about healthcare, as it was a top priority in this year’s midterm. Democrats have been split on what route to take in the House, while Republicans in the Senate have been relatively quiet. Half of the House Democrats want to bolster Obamacare, while the other half wants to pass a Medicare for All bill. Look for healthcare to once again be in the spotlight during the 116th Congress.
Finally, there are a whole host of issues that could rhyme with the 99th Congress. Immigration could be the subject of compromise as it was in the past and our tax code is still horrendously complex and ripe for reform (rather than just tax cuts across the board).
Only time will tell if the 116th Congress, will adopt their predecessors’ fiscally conscience and reform minded legislating. Pundits may see the glass half empty, but in this divided government there is plenty of room for compromise, just look at the past.
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