The midterm elections are over and many wonder how they will impact the disability community in the 114th Congress. And with all of the 24/7 news coverage, it can be hard to know what really matters for us. Here is a quick synopsis to make it easier:
- Republicans gained control of the Senate and further strengthened their majority in the House. However, they will need to work with Democrats to pass legislation which the President will sign for it to become law in the next two years.
- Party majorities are really important, mostly because they determine control of the Congressional agenda and calendar and the Committees where most of the work gets done.
- The three committees in the Senate that are most important to people with I/DD are the Appropriations Committee, the Finance Committee and the Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee. The Appropriations Committee determines funding for federal agencies and most discretionary programs. The Finance Committee handles funding and program details for Social Security, Medicaid, and other entitlement programs. The HELP Committee handles most federal programs related to health, education, and employment.
- The Committee chairpersons (from the majority party) determine a committee’s priorities based on their interests, sense of national needs, and political judgment.
- Senators Richard Shelby (R-AL), Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN), are expected to become the next chairmen of the Appropriations, Finance, and HELP Committees, respectively. However, chairmanships won’t be finalized until early 2015.
Every election provides an opportunity for The Arc to make new friends in Congress. In the coming weeks and months, we will be engaging our vast network in reaching out to their new Members of Congress as well as those who continue to represent them. There are new faces and new dynamics in Congress, but our work remains the same.
Disability is a bipartisan issue and The Arc is a non-partisan organization. Disability affects all Americans in one way or another, sooner or later. We remember that landmark disability legislation like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) became law through the support of Republican and Democratic Members of Congress alike. The Arc’s grassroots and chapters will do what we have always done. We work hard to get to know our elected officials and what they care and know about. We let them know what we care and know about. Most importantly, we let them know why we care. We tell them about our children, brothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles, neighbors, friends, etc. with I/DD. We let them know that we matter. We do this by paying attention to what they do and letting them know how we feel about it. We also do this by serving as a resource for them. If they try to do something that helps our community, we thank them.
The 114th Congress begins with the new year. We will need action at every level of The Arc to ensure that Members and staff are fully aware of the issues that are important to people with I/DD.