In his State of the Union speech, President Barack Obama addressed a new Republican-controlled Congress seemingly poised to assail some of his administration’s signature accomplishments. Whether the 114th Congress heeds his call to “turn the page” on past differences remains to be seen, but certainly the 2014 election cycle distinctly changed Washington politics, presenting several challenges (and opportunities) for associations engaging government.
In a seeping trend similar to the 2010 midterm elections, Republicans seized majority control of the U.S. Senate in 2014 by gaining eight seats and built on their existing lead in the House of Representatives, gaining 13 seats. The GOP now enjoys a Senate majority of 54-46, with a bolstered 247-188 margin in the House, prompting prominent Republicans with eyes ahead to the 2016 elections to emphasize that the party, known for obstruction in the previous Congress, now needs to show that it is willing to govern.
While Republicans may focus on deconstructing aspects of the Affordable Care Act and certain regulatory stances of the Obama Administration—in areas such as healthcare, financial reform, immigration and the environment—they’ll also pursue their own goals, among them approval of the Keystone XL pipeline and tax reform.
Implications for Associations
The changing of the guard in Washington presents a combination of opportunities and challenges for associations and societies seeking to engage the U.S. government.
- It presents a clean slate to groups that struggled to be heard by the previous Congress, or to those groups who had no existing relationships at all. The influx of “freshmen,” or new Members of Congress—12 senators and 52 representatives—provides a fantastic opportunity to share technical expertise and influence decision-makers. Kellen is currently building a D.C. presence for a professional society client to establish them as the go-to resource for their industry and build familiarity with legislators and regulators for possible future collaborations. Our goal is making sure they know our clients exist as important stakeholder groups and can be tapped as expert resources on important policy matters, whether for technical insight or to provide on-record testimony.
- With more freedom to act in Congress, Republicans have promised to move on items that were stalled in previous months—including the Keystone XL Pipeline—necessitating that associations with interest in particular areas closely monitor the legislative and regulatory landscapes for developments. We are doing this on a daily basis for a number of our public affairs clients.
- Some associations actively seek particular legislative outcomes—for example, the extension of energy efficiency tax incentives, on which Kellen successfully engaged Congress in 2014 on behalf of manufacturing clients. Depending on your group’s positions, it may now be easier to pursue certain policy actions…or more difficult. Orchestrating a fly-in to Washington to meet face-to-face with staff, legislators and regulators offers an opportunity to voice and advocate positions on these issues.
- Turnover in Senate committee leadership can be challenging with regard to managing relationships. For example, Sen. Landrieu, former chair of the Senate Committee on Energy, is no longer in Congress, and former majority party staffers are now in the minority. This example underscores the importance of fostering relationships with committee staff in both parties, as electoral tides like that of 2014 can sweep a party out of control with little notice.
As always, we’ll be watching the changing political landscape and monitoring what any effects the changes may have on our associations’ industries.