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Despite midterm losses, House Republicans optimistic for lame-duck session

Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, speaks to WSYX from Capitol Hill on Nov. 14, 2018. (WSYX)

With less than seven weeks left in 2018, House members returned to Washington this week eager to get back to work as they begin to adapt to the shift in power brought on the midterm elections.

Democrats gained more than 30 seats last Tuesday, and they could pick up a few more as the remaining votes are tallied in some races, and new members have begun orientation. Meanwhile, incumbents, including the Republicans many of those new members will replace in January, are expecting an unusually active lame-duck session.

Republicans remained hopeful they can check a few things off their to-do list before Democrats take control, including appropriation bills to fund several departments of the government for the 2019 fiscal year. They will need President Donald Trump’s cooperation to do that, though, and that could get complicated.

“There’s a series of things we need to address here before the Christmas holidays,” said Rep. Paul Mitchell, R-Mich. “I think there’s enough time to do that. It’s a matter of just getting down to business and taking care of it.”

Congress approved about half of the necessary appropriations bills for 2019 before the election, but the rest of the government, including the Department of Homeland Security, is currently only funded through Dec. 7. President Trump has repeatedly threatened to shut down the government if he does not get full funding for a wall on the southern border, but Republicans are downplaying that prospect.

“I think it’s, to be honest with you, patently stupid to shut down the government right before the holidays. That’s just wrong,” Mitchell said.

Republicans are also racing to get a farm bill across the finish line that will lay out agriculture policies for the next five years before current provisions expire or the new Democratic majority seeks changes to the legislation. Both chambers have passed a version of the bill, but the House and Senate are still negotiating over key provisions, including proposed work requirements for food stamp recipients.

“The farm bill is a big priority,” said Rep. John Moolenaar, R-Mich. “We’re a strong agriculture state and we want to make sure we provide some certainty for our farmers.”

House GOP leaders are looking ahead to plot a course for their new role as a minority party supporting an embattled president. Whoever heads the Republican caucus in 2019, Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, said Americans should expect the party’s agenda will largely be the same as it has been.

“We’ll continue to focus on jobs. We’ll continue to focus on health care affordability,” said Stivers, who chaired the National Republican Congressional Committee in the last election cycle. “We’ll continue to focus on trying to get an infrastructure package done. Hopefully, we can work together on those things and make those things happen.”

Although Republicans recognize their power will be limited in the next Congress, they are eying potential areas of compromise with Democrats.

“We’ll continue to be accountable to the American people, trying to make sure we’re delivering government that works,” Stivers said. “We will try to work with Democrats where we can to get things done, but at the same time we’re going to stand up for our principles and values of personal freedoms and open markets and free people.”

Lawmakers fear bipartisan cooperation will only grow harder to find as the 2020 election approaches.

“I think we need to get some things done here before the presidential cycle starts up full-bore,” Mitchell said.

Even as they relish the ability to conduct oversight and investigations of the Trump administration, Democrats say they are also looking for opportunities for bipartisanship because many progressive priorities would hit a dead end in the Republican-controlled Senate.

“We’re not looking for a Democrat-led House to pass legislation that won’t pass the Senate, and in order to pass the Senate, it has to be bipartisan,” said Rep. Anthony Brown, D-Md. “That’s the only way we’ll get it to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. for the president’s signature.”

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