Today on the Hill: Alabama Heads to the Polls in Special Election for Senate; Proposed Tax, CR Timelines Emerge

December 12, 2017

Political observers will be waiting eagerly for the returns from today’s special election in Alabama to select Jeff Sessions’ replacement in the U.S. Senate. The unusually competitive race between Republican Roy Moore and Democrat Doug Jones has attracted national attention and resources, making today’s result another indicator for both parties as they plot their strategies for next year’s midterm elections. However, many commentators have been quick to point out the highly unusual circumstances surrounding the Alabama race: a special election held in December, in a deeply Republican state, but with a controversial Republican candidate that has disavowed the establishment and is fighting off accusations of inappropriate sexual conduct with minors.

Unsurprisingly, polls conducted for the race have shown a great degree of variance. Surveys completed in just the past week have shown everything from Jones being up by 10 points to Moore being ahead by 9 points. Most analysts have hypothesized that Jones will benefit from a higher turnout while Moore would have the advantage should turnout follow traditional patterns for off-year elections. While today’s result will undoubtedly be consequential regardless of the outcome, it is unlikely that the new Alabaman senator will impact the ongoing legislative work on tax reform as Senate leaders are reportedly aiming to seat the new senator after Dec. 20.

Plans to address those twin priorities of tax reform and government funding are still being hammered out behind the scenes by Republican leaders. According to a Politico report from this morning, Republicans are hoping that the public conference meeting tomorrow will be followed by the release of the reconciled tax bill by Friday. On that timeline, the Senate could vote on the negotiated tax plan next Monday or Tuesday, and the House would then vote Tuesday or Wednesday, leaving lawmakers enough time to pass a government funding package before the expiration of the current continuing resolution (CR) on Friday, Dec. 22. Of course, this is a best-case scenario for Republican lawmakers and will be highly reliant on intraparty unity once a final tax package is released.

Today’s floor action includes a final Senate vote on the nomination of Leonard Grasz to join the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, despite opposition from Democrats who have charged that Grasz is unqualified for the post – a contention that is supported by the American Bar Association (ABA). Nevertheless, Grasz’s nomination passed cloture yesterday on a 48-47 vote and is expected to be approved today.

House lawmakers will consider a bill (H.R. 3971) allowing for more lenders to be exempted from the escrow requirements outlined in the Truth in Lending Act (TILA). The bill aims to back small financial institutions such as community banks and was passed out of the House Financial Services Committee on a 41-19 vote in October. Thirteen additional measures, primarily to officially name federal buildings, will be considered under suspension of the rules.