On the heels of the midterm elections in the United States, Lisa Ross, president of Edelman Washington D.C., hosted a panel discussion with Michael Steele, the former Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman, and Joe Lockhart, Vice Chairman of Public Affairs at Edelman. The conversation was moderated by Nick Johnston, Editor-in Chief of Axios. Darci Vetter, general manager of Public Affairs at Edelman, and former Chief Agricultural Negotiator for the U.S. Trade Representative, also joined. The conversation with Edelman clients and colleagues focused on what the election results could mean for the United States, the global economy, business leaders and consumers.
Michael Steele and Joe Lockhart agreed on three key areas where we could potentially see bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress:
With both sides of the aisle unhappy with the technology industry, albeit for different reasons, tech companies should expect the beginnings of bipartisan legislation that seeks to regulate the industry and its data policies. Tech companies need to get ahead of the issue and begin informing consumers and Congress how their data is being monetized, anonymized, and used. Consumers know just enough about how tech companies use and store their data to be scared. The tech companies now need to explain how the monetization of users’ data actually benefits the consumer.
Republicans and Democrats alike have expressed interest in passing some type of infrastructure legislation, which could draw bipartisan support and create jobs. This is something that President Trump has been wanting to do since his first day in office. Democrats will have the incentive to pass an infrastructure bill ahead of 2020 because it will allow them to showcase how they govern by moving policy forward. This could be a win-win for both the president and Congressional Democrats.
Health Care and Drug Pricing
Democrats will be on guard to stop any attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), while turning their attention to legislation aimed at protecting people with pre-existing conditions, thereby giving Democrats the opportunity to force Republicans to go on record about where they stand on pre-existing conditions protection. In addition, drug pricing is likely to become a big deal in the House of Representatives. Some type of drug pricing plan should be expected, and Democrats may find an ally in President Trump on this issue. Just this past May, the White House released a blueprint to lower drug prices.
Two other issues were also of note during the discussion:
President Trump has spent the last two years encouraging his agencies to focus on deregulation. Those marching orders are likely to hit a major speed bump once Democrats take over the House of Representatives in January. Expect Democrats to slow the pace of regulatory rollback on climate and environmental regulations. Further, Democrats have the opportunity to shine a light on what agencies such as the Department of Energy, the Department of Education, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, among others, have been doing. These agencies should prepare for Congressional hearings and inquiries.
Trade and Tariffs
Trade and tariffs have played a central role in the Trump administration, and this is unlikely to change moving forward. This election has effectively given the president the green light on his recent trade agenda, at least for now. We should expect to see a continuation of the same aggressive tactics we have watched the president use over the past two years.
Interestingly, a number of Democrats agree with President Trump on his approach to trade and tariffs, but we should not expect them to come out publicly in strong support—they don’t want to give the president a win just yet. Conversely, while a number of Democrats may agree with the president’s approach, many Republicans do not. However, don’t expect Republicans to speak up, as they are unwilling to go against the president on this issue at this point in time. Farmers have already begun to feel the pinch from tariffs, but American consumers will begin to feel the pain of price increases early next year. If and when they do, we can expect consumers to get more vocal and push businesses and policymakers to make changes.
What does all of this mean? The midterm election was not necessarily “transformative”; instead, it was a confirmation of political realities. As Michael Steele noted: “Red states got redder, blue states got bluer.” And, of course, the power dynamic has now shifted. Over the past two years, the Democrats haven’t had much to leverage, but that all changes in January when the new Congress is seated. Democrats will be in the position to put what they care about on the agenda and highlight issues important to them and their constituents.
Kelley Smith is a senior vice president, Strategic Business Development, Washington, D.C.