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Top Five DC Takeaways from 2023

2023 was an interesting year for policy, politics, and the broader policy ecosystem.  For many on Capitol Hill, it will be a year they hope to forget as dysfunction, hyper-partisanship, and broken leadership elections dominated much of Congress’ time and focus.  For others, they will embrace quiet cooperation among Republicans and Democrats on key emerging issues.  What everyone can agree on is that the biggest thing 2023 left us with is a ton of work to do in 2024!  Here are some key takeaways from the past year.  

Small House and Senate Majorities Create Big Problems:  Of course it was predictable (humble brag: we predicted it), but a narrow minority, especially in the House, was a recipe for intra-party problems and difficulties moving legislation.  Nothing highlights this more than roller coaster ride of Speaker elections and failed attempts to rally around a Republican speaker. Small groups of policymakers become the center of power when the majority can only lose a handful of votes and it proved to be an historic hurdle to meaningful policy outcomes.  The problem ahead is that the majority in the House will be even smaller…meaning even fewer members are needed to throw a wrench in the process.  

Despite Historic Partisanship, Major Problems Were Averted (for now): While dysfunction was the name of the game in DC for 2023, Congress avoided a government shutdown and a default on the nation’s debt through what became bipartisan initiatives to prevent painful and damaging outcomes that would have resulted from not raising the debt ceiling and / or not passing a continuing resolution.  While it was ugly at times and always at the last minute, Congress ultimately prevailed on these issues and avoided pushing funding and debt off the cliff.  

Republicans and Democrats Actually Came Together on Key Issues:  You would never know it from all the coverage on partisan fighting, but both parties worked well together on some major issues that emerged over the past year.  China and Artificial Intelligence are two examples of where Republicans and Democrats aligned around an urgent need to work together, which they effectively did.  It provides some hope that the structure still exists in Congress to come together outside of the political spotlight to sit around a table and get work done. 

The Can Continues to Be Kicked Down the Road: In normal times, Congress wants an election year to be light on policy and heavy on campaigning,  Policymaking takes time and brings risk - two things policymakers don’t have or want in an election year.  If nothing else, this Congress has built a robust (to say the least) agenda for next year that will bring policymakers exactly what they do not want - time in DC and risk.  From the Farm Bill to two separate appropriations deadlines and many other must-pass items in between, Congress will be forced to address next year what they couldn’t this year.  With smaller majorities and a looming election, it doesn’t get any easier next year.

The Campaign Trail is Bringing More Headaches Than Excitement:  2023 officially launched the election cycle and there were no big surprises - former President Trump continues to hold a large lead on the Republican side and President Biden holds a large lead on the Democratic side.  But the excitement for an election among policymakers does not seem to be where it once was. Candidates at the top of the ticket bring some anxiety for each party, the House and Senate are both in play, there is significant global uncertainty that is tough to explain to voters, party divisions are evident, and people just are not ready for campaign season. Many throughout 2023 just pretended like the election was far enough away they did not need to focus on it.  That posture may have averted reality for a bit, but that all changes next year. 


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