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Op-Ed: CNE’s take on Puerto Rico’s agenda in DC post-midterm elections

The new balance of power in Washington D.C. will entail learning a different language to communicate our message on the Hill, as well as developing new advocacy strategies.

But before the end of the year, we need to advocate for several important legislative priorities for Puerto Rico, including Medicaid funding and Hurricane Fiona disaster relief funding. In the new year, the transition from the current Nutritional Assistance Program to the nation-wide Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, known as SNAP, will be one of the top priorities.

Regarding Medicaid, the federal share of the funding for Puerto Rico’s program is scheduled to decrease from 76% to 55% on December 16, 2022. It is imperative for Puerto Rico’s fiscal stability and the adequate operation of the island’s Medicaid program that this scenario does not come to pass.

As an example of the broader implications for Puerto Rico given the new balance of power in D.C. starting in 2023, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA) is expected to become Chairwoman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has primary jurisdiction in that chamber over Medicaid.

She has already stated her opposition to a CMS interpretation of 2019 legislation which provided significantly increased federal annual capped funding for Medicaid to the territories for FY2020 and FY2021. The CMS interpretation extended the duration of the higher Medicaid capped funding beyond FY2021.

As chairwoman of the Energy and Commerce Committee she may challenge the CMS interpretation and probably seek to lower the amount of capped Medicaid funding available to Puerto Rico.

As for hurricane Fiona disaster relief funding, the Pierluisi Administration has preliminarily estimated damages caused by Hurricane Fiona at approximately $10 billion. That money would need to be appropriated by Congress, hopefully through an expected emergency appropriations supplemental bill to be taken up during the lame duck session.

Congress is also expected at some point during the spring next year to take up a massive five-year Farm Bill, which will cover everything from farmer subsidies to nutritional assistance. The main Farm Bill policy objective of the government of Puerto Rico and of many NGOs in the island is to seek a transition from the current Nutritional Assistance Program to the nation-wide Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, known as SNAP.

The transition to SNAP would entail higher nutritional assistance funding, as well as other benefits, for Puerto Rico. Given the expected new majority in the House that will certainly be a challenge, but with the help of our supporters CNE will continue to advocate for this issue.

It would be a mistake to think that there is no space for Puerto Rico to obtain some wins in the federal policy arena. Those policy wins can be achieved if advocacy organizations and the island’s government adapt to the new reality in Washington.

That adaptation implies learning to play interstitial politics, navigating between, and staying away from the most extreme factions in both parties, while moving towards those members from both parties that are closer to the center. Granted, that is a tight political space given the expected composition of both chambers, but that is where any deals between the Biden Administration and Congress are most likely to be.

Adapting to the new political conditions in the U.S. is the only strategy likely to be successful in avoiding two years of stagnation and achieving some policy victories in Washington.

Results still coming in
Election results in the U.S. midterm elections are still coming in, but the big picture points toward the Democrats losing control of the House. The Republican Party is expected to gain anywhere between 7 and 12 seats in the House. On the other side of the Capitol, contrary to expectations, the Democrats have managed to scratch out victories in Arizona and Nevada.

In Georgia, Raphael Warnock with 49.4% of the vote, is slightly ahead of the Republican challenger, Herschel Walker, who has 48.5% with more than 95% of ballots counted. A third-party candidate has 2.1%. The problem is that Georgia law requires a runoff election if no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote. Given that Warnock is about half a percentage point below that threshold, there will be a second-round election in Georgia on Dec. 6.

So, right now the Democrats control 50 Senate seats and the Republicans 49. That margin is enough to control the Senate, given that Vice President Harris would vote to break any ties in favor of the Democrats. It would be a mistake, though, to think that the race in Georgia doesn’t matter. In fact, given how close the midterms have been and the arcane rules of the Senate, it would make a significant difference, he adds.

If the Democrats manage to reelect Warnock, the 51-49 margin will allow them to have clear majorities in the membership of Senate committees, as opposed to splitting them 50/50 with Republicans, which has been case for the last two years.

This would make it easier to push through appointments and legislation, because any ties at the committee level are resolved by discharging the matter to the floor. Presumably, that would not be the case if the Democrats have a “clean” majority.

It would also significantly decrease the leverage that more conservative Democrats, like Senators Manchin and Sinema, have exercised over the last two years, because Majority Leader Schumer would have the flexibility of losing at least one vote and still be able to pass legislation.

In the final analysis, though, a two-vote majority is not a mandate, and the slim margin will certainly keep Sen. Schumer busy holding Democrats in line to support the Biden administration’s legislative priorities, but it certainly makes his job just slightly easier.

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This story was written by our staff based on a press release.

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