The midterm elections are over and an evenly divided 118th Congress will convene early next year, but the 117th Congress still has time to accomplish more. It can take these extra weeks on the legislative schedule to shore up the financial stability of Main Streets across the country and rights of Americans.
While post-election sessions, also known as lame-deck sessions, have ended earlier than scheduled, Congress still has key areas to address for working Americans and small businesses before it heads home for the rest of the year. Some can stabilize the economy and democracy and others will codify rights established by the Supreme Court into law. Recognizing the limited time policymakers have to work with, here are three actions the 117th Congress should take before it adjourns.
1. Modernize the Electoral Count Act
Weakened democracies are also unsafe global investments, and we have seen how the Electoral Count Act of 1887 has been exploited over the last 20 years, culminating in the chaos of January 6, 2021. Bipartisan legislation would modernize the rules for counting presidential electoral votes and clarify that the vice president does not have any power to solely accept or reject electors. It would also increase the threshold to raise an objection to a state’s electors. This proposal has support from both Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer [D-NY] and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell [R-KY], demonstrating its practical approach to modernizing the arcane 1887 law. A strong economy relies on a strong democracy, and this legislation would strengthen the stability and transparency of our democratic system to peacefully transition power between administrations. Congress should not leave without passing this reform.
2. Codify Same-sex and Interracial Marriage
The Senate is on track to pass the Respect for Marraige Act, which would require the federal government to recognize both same-sex and interracial marriages. In 2015 in Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage was a constitutional right, making marriage equality the law of the land. This built on the legacy of Loving v. Virginia (1967) which ruled that states banning interracial marriages were in violation of the U.S. constitution, paving the way for full marriage equality for all. However, we have recently seen the Court take an extreme approach in reversing established precedent, and some justices have explicitly threatened to overturn marriage equality, specifically the rights of same-sex couples. There are more than half a million same-sex married couples in the U.S. today, and if states are given the authority to nullify these marriages, the financial impact on them would disastrous. To start with, there would be an immediate disruption to their banking and retirement planning that only divorced couples experience by choice. It would also affect the 1.4 million LGBTQ-owned businesses in communities generating more than $1.7 trillion dollars to the U.S. economy and supporting tens of thousands of jobs. Congress should formally guarantee the same federal protections for same-sex married couples as opposite-sex couples.
3. Raise the Debt Ceiling
And finally, Congress should vote to raise the debt ceiling to avoid any efforts for the next Congress to leverage the debt ceiling increase in a possibly self-destructive manner. The federal government is projected to reach its $31.4 trillion borrowing limit sometime in 2023. That may seem like a lifetime from now, but we have already seen a divided Congress play the game of “chicken” between raising the debt ceiling and defaulting on the national debt too many times. If the federal government runs out of money and defaults on its debt, the effects will be catastrophic and range from plunging stock markets to more expensive small business loans. An analysis by Moody’s Analytics chief economist Mark Zandi estimates that defaulting on the national debt would wipe out as many as 6 million jobs and erase $15 trillion in household wealth. The current Congress can take this risk off the table by raising the debt ceiling now.
A stable economy and government have given entrepreneurs the support needed to open their own businesses and create jobs and the past three years have been wrought with instability. Congressional lame-duck sessions are generally defined by the issues that cannot wait until next year. We cannot wait until next year with the hope that a divided Congress will provide this stability. If the current Congress wants to support Main Streets and working Americans across the country, it should take these three steps before it adjourns.