The midterm elections are over and many wonder how they will impact the disability community. As of this writing, Republicans gained at least 7 seats in the Senate, giving them control of the chamber. They also gained at least 10 seats in the House, further strengthening their majority. A few states still have elections results pending, and Republican gains could increase in both houses.
Majority control in Congress has a significant impact on the legislative agenda. Committee chairpersons (from the majority party) determine a committee’s priorities based on their interests, sense of national needs, and political judgment. The two most important Senate committees for the disability community are the Finance Committee and Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee. The Finance Committee has jurisdiction over Social Security, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Medicaid, and Medicare, among other issues. HELP has jurisdiction over other federal programs related to health, education, and employment.
According to press report, Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) are expected to take over the HELP and Finance Committees, respectively. However chairmanships won’t be finalized until early 2015.
The election results provide an opportunity to enlist new supporters in Congress who can be made aware of the interest of people with I/DD and what is required for meaningful, independent living. See new Members at: http://www.nationaljournal.com/almanac/114th-congress-new-members
Congress returns this week to begin its post-election session of Congress (called the lame duck session). Issues that are expected to take priority are spending bills to fund the government after the current continuing resolution expires on December 11, including additional funding to address Ebola outbreak, and measures to combat the Islamic group ISL, and confirmation of the next Attorney General. Given the impending shift in Senate control, some members of Congress are urging that the session be limited to keeping government functioning and other must-pass legislation. Other lawmakers and some outside interests are pushing to get more things done, including renewal of dozens of already-expired tax breaks. Disability advocates meanwhile are working to have Congress pass the ABLE Act and for the Senate to ratify the U.N Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) during the lame duck session.
The National Council on Disability (NCD) released a report entitled, “Experience of Voters with Disabilities in the 2012 Election Cycle.“ The report found that people with disabilities continue to confront barriers to voting including physical, architectural, and attitudinal barriers at registration and polling sites and problems accessing accessible voting technology. The report highlights a barrier that is particularly troublesome for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) – guardianship. The report makes several recommendations, including one specific to guardianship:
- NCD recommends that state legislatures and local rulemaking authorities conduct a review of state guardianship laws and modify them where necessary to ensure that all people with intellectual, developmental, or psychiatric disabilities have full access to the right to vote, independent of their legal capacity.
The Commission on Election Administration, created by Executive Order in March 2013 to identify best practices and recommend improvements in the voting experience, met with a panel of disability advocates. The National Council on Disability convened the group to provide input to Commissioners about the experiences of people with disabilities in the voting process. Advocates pointed to numerous improvements that have been made since the passage of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) in 2002 but also stressed that barriers remain. Ongoing problems that the advocates highlighted included guardianship status, long waiting lines, poorly trained poll workers, inaccessibility, and the presumption that individuals with intellectual disabilities are not competent to vote. The Commissioners are interested in learning about any jurisdictions in which the voting experience for people with I/DD works well. The public can provide input to the Commission through its website: www.supportthevoter.gov.
While the election did not result in major changes in the House and Senate majorities, it did result in openings on key Committees important to people with I/DD. The Democrats in the Senate picked up 2 seats and it is assumed that the Independents (newly elected Angus King (I-ME) and re-elected Bernard Sanders (I-VT) will caucus with the Democrats. However, the 55-45 majority is still short of the 60 votes needed to stop filibusters (a procedural maneuver that results in needing 60 votes rather than a simple majority to pass legislation). While all of the election results are not final in the House races the Republican majority retains a significant advantage (likely 234-201) as compared to the current Congress (242-196 with 3 vacancies). When the 113thCongress convenes in January several Committees and Subcommittee will have new leadership including:
- Ranking Minority Member, Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP) (Senator Enzi R-WY is term limited and it is likely that Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) will step into that role)
- Chair, Senate Budget Committee (Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND) retired)
- Ranking member, House Appropriations (Rep. Norman Dicks (D-WA) retired)
- Chair, House Labor, Health and Human Services Education and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee (Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT) defeated in Senate bid)
- Chair and Ranking Member of the Health Subcommittee of Ways and Means will both be open given the retirement of Rep. Herger (R-CA) and defeat of Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA)
These and other changes will lead to a shuffling of chairmanships and other positions as Members and leadership weigh the different options.
The transcription and webcast are available from the National Forum on Disability Issues which was held September 28th. The forum was an opportunity for the disability community to learn more about the positions on disability issue held by the two Presidential candidates. Visit the website to view these informative videos. For more resources on the election visit our blog. Many issues facing people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) are being debated at the local, state and federal level. It is critical that members of the disability community educate themselves about the issues and vote on November 6th.
Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives, giving them a majority of 239 to 187 for the 112th Congress (9 races are still undecided). They also gained seats in the Senate, narrowing the Democrats margin to 53 to 47 and reducing their chances of obtaining the 60 votes needed to stop a filibuster. Republicans have signaled a hard-line stance after their election victories, promising Congressional investigations, a concerted effort to repeal health care reform, and reduced federal spending. For detailed results on federal and state elections, see:
Tomorrow, the entire House of Representatives and a third of the Senate are up for election. Disability advocates are strongly encouraged to vote in this election. The future of disability policy will greatly be determined by the results of this election and the leadership in the 112th Congress.
In order to get out as many voters as possible, the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) is sponsoring the Disability Vote Project (DVP), which offers a toll free number to provide comprehensive support for voters with disabilities: 1-866-OUR-VOTE. DVP aims to get people with disabilities registered to vote; strives to educate them on how to get to their polling places and what their rights are at the polling places; and works to make polling places accessible to voters with all disabilities.