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Even with a resounding Republican victory in the 2014 midterm elections, employers and human resource professionals shouldn’t expect to see major changes on Capitol Hill.
“There’s a lot of nuance to managing something as massive as the federal government,” said Amanda Austin, vice president of federal policy at the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB). “Any change will depend on how ambitious Republican leaders are going to be in pushing their agenda, and if they overreach, then there could be serious political backlash. So we shouldn’t expect to see any radical changes on Capitol Hill.”
After winning a series of key races, the GOP solidified its hold on the U.S. House of Representatives and seized control of the U.S. Senate. Starting in 2015, Republicans will be the majority in both houses of Congress for the first time since 2006.
While the GOP majority in the House will be the largest since Harry S. Truman was president, the Republicans’ hold on the Senate is much more tenuous. The exact number of GOP senators is unclear because races in Alaska and Virginia remain undecided, and incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., faces a runoff election in early December.
Even if the Republicans win all the outstanding Senate races, they will still be shy of 60 votes—the number needed to invoke cloture and end filibusters. Neither house of Congress will have the two-thirds majority needed to override presidential vetoes.
Repeal or Revise the ACA?
According to Austin, don’t look for a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA)—often referred to as Obamacare.
“A full repeal of the health care reform law is definitely off the table,” she said. “Because Democrats in the Senate most likely will filibuster the repeal, and the president is certain to veto it. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t some room for compromise, and we could see some legislation that could tweak health care reform and make some smaller changes.”
Yet other sources familiar with the issue believe Republicans may attempt a full repeal of the health care law.
“Right off the bat, there will have to be a vote to fully repeal the ACA so the new guys in Congress are on the record,” said Joel Kopperud, director of government affairs at the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers.
Since Republicans assumed control of the House in 2011, they have voted 54 times to either change or repeal the law. Those efforts to alter the health care law should continue in 2015 and possibly have a bit more traction with the GOP majority in the Senate, according to Kopperud and other sources.
Though Nathan Riedel, vice president of political affairs at Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America, agreed with Austin’s viewpoint that Republicans will take a piecemeal approach to revising the health care law.
“I really see this as being one of their last chances to do that,” he told reporters.
An incremental approach could gain some bipartisan support, said Austin.
“Before the election, some Democrats indicated that they could be open to tweaking the law, and making what they see as improvements,” she added. “So a bipartisan approach might be possible and be something that President Obama would agree with and sign into law.”
More Targeted Immigration Reform
Employers and HR professionals should expect to see the same incremental approach to immigration reform, according to Rebecca Peters, director and counsel for legislative affairs at the Council for Global Immigration.
“I believe we will see more targeted immigration reform legislation that addresses specific concerns that the Republican leadership has,” Peters said. “If a piece of legislation can gain bipartisan support then we could see some movement. The GOP must show that they can govern, so it will be in their best interest to find ways to compromise and get the bipartisan support. It remains to be seen if this can happen.”
Minimum Wage Moves to the States
In the run-up to the election, many candidates tried to make minimum wage a campaign issue. As a response, several states placed questions about minimum wage increases on the ballot, and voters in the conservative-leaning states of Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota approved referendums to increase the minimum wage.
The NFIB’s Austin said that these approvals of the statewide measures show that minimum wage has moved away from being a federal issue and has become locally focused.
“This issue has been pushed down to the states, where I think it should be decided,” she said. “That doesn’t mean that it couldn’t be brought back up at the federal level. With the success of the state referendums, some GOP leaders could be open to a compromise in an increase of the federal minimum wage, but it’s really much too early to tell how that issue might play out over the next couple of years.”
Bill Leonard is a senior writer for SHRM.
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