The 2022 midterm elections on November 8 were expected to deliver a decisive power flip from Democrats to Republicans. However, as the new landscape comes into focus, it appears that Democrats will hold the Senate, and Republicans are likely to win the House of Representatives by a handful of seats. These margins and the composition of new committees will determine the trajectory of global health research and development policy over the next two years.
Both chambers on a knife edge split
Republicans underperformed most analysts’ projections in both chambers. In the House, they are expected to eke into power by only a handful of seats. In the Senate—where several Republican candidates failed to overtake their competitors in close races—Democrats have retained control and may even net gain one seat, depending on the outcome of a special runoff election in Georgia on Tuesday, December 6, between incumbent Senator Raphael Warnock (D) and Herschel Walker (R).
Implications on makeup of key committees
Next steps for both parties include electing new party leaders, which is expected to happen later this year. Following that, early next year, the parties will designate committee assignments, which will impact oversight and policymaking for the next two years of global health research. In the House, committee majorities will be determined by who holds the majority in the full House. In the Senate, if the final split is 50-50, then committees will also be evenly split. But if Senator Raphael Warnock wins his reelection in Georgia, then the Senate will be 51-49, and Democrats will take the majority on each committee with one extra seat.
Though we do not yet know exactly how the committees will look next year, we do know which members from the 117th Congress will return to the 118th and which current members will be stepping down.
- Leadership of most committees relevant to global health research and development (R&D) are expected to remain relatively stable with top Democrats and Republicans trading positions as chairs and ranking members. Some exceptions include Representative Karen Bass, chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations, who is stepping down in pursuit of becoming the next mayor of Los Angeles and Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY), ranking member of the House Appropriations State, Foreign Operations, and Related Agencies Subcommittee, who may become chair of the subcommittee or may be replaced by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL).
- Among the members currently serving on the House Foreign Affairs Committee who have retained their Congressional seats are Reps. Susan Wild (D-PA), Maria Elvira Salazar (R-FL), Young Kim (R-CA), and Abigail Spanberger (D-VA). Members who were defeated include Reps. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ) and Steve Chabot (R-OH).
- Some other members of Congress on relevant appropriating and authorizing committees to global health research who are retiring or lost their primaries earlier this year include Reps. Albio Sires (D-NJ), David Price (D-NC), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Cheri Bustos (D-IL), Jaime Herrera-Beutler (R-WA) and Fred Upton (R-MI).
In the Senate:
- There were no major losses among incumbents on the Foreign Relations Committee; Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee; or the Appropriations Labor, Health, nor on the Human Services, Education, and Related Programs (LHHS) and State and Foreign Operations subcommittees.
- Some big names will be retiring, including Sens. Richard Shelby (R-AL), ranking member on the Appropriations Committee; Roy Blunt (R-MO), ranking member on the LHHS Subcommittee; Richard Burr (R-NC), ranking member on the HELP Committee; and Rob Portman (R-OH).
- Some leadership changes are expected. Sen. Patty Murray, previous chair of the Senate HELP Committee, is expected to become the head of the Senate Appropriations Committee. The Senate HELP Committee will likely be led by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) or Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA). The Senate LHHS subcommittee may be led by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL).
- Both 2022 GHTC Innovating for Impact award winners, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Sen. Todd Young (R-IN) retained their seats.
A potentially challenging landscape
With Democrats elected to retain control of the Senate in the 118th Congress, leadership in both parties of the current Congress may be more interested in passing an end-of-year funding package so that the 118th Congress can begin with a clean slate. The same may not be true next year, though. If Republicans have a slim majority in the House as projected, it could empower more conservative members to dangle threats to regular governance, such as annual passage of an appropriations package, as bargaining chips—a threat some members have already referenced. Such a dynamic may also lead to hardball negotiations over raising the debt ceiling, a final agreement on which is due in July of next year. Ultimately, these dynamics could limit the potential for global health R&D funding growth in the next two years, despite the need for greater resources.
Beyond the funding picture, if Republicans win control the House, they plan to increase oversight over many US government agencies, including several public health and research agencies such as the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Oversight over the executive branch is a critical function of Congress, but aggressive oversight can also threaten the basic functioning of these agencies as staff efforts are redirected. This could ultimately impact the pace of progress for global health research and science in general.
Global health R&D has historically received bipartisan support, yet this will be the first Congress to be seated after the COVID-19 pandemic, a global health catastrophe that has provoked some policymakers to question the value of certain types of research and the global health status quo. The results of this election are still being finalized, but regardless of who is in charge, there will remain opportunities for crafting and passing good policy. Whether progress happens and at what pace will largely depend on the ability of advocates to make the bipartisan case for why global health R&D is a force multiplier for creating a healthier and safer future for Americans and all global citizens.