Capitol Alert

What Democrats’ House majority next year will mean for California

Rep. Pelosi celebrates new Democratic majority in the House

Nancy Pelosi spoke to supporters on November 6, 2018 after it was clear that Democrats would win enough seats in the House of Representatives to retake the majority.
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Nancy Pelosi spoke to supporters on November 6, 2018 after it was clear that Democrats would win enough seats in the House of Representatives to retake the majority.

Democrats will have a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2019 for the first time in a decade. And while legislative gridlock is likely to remain the rule in Washington, the shift in the balance of power will still affect Californians and issues they care about, from immigration to healthcare to traffic jams.

Here is a look at some of the ways House Democrats can shape policies that matter most to the state:

Infrastructure

Both President Trump and Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the likely next speaker of the House, told reporters on Wednesday that an infrastructure funding package was one of the top prospects for a bipartisan deal. California could desperately use the extra federal help.

The state’s roads and bridge repair programs got a boost Tuesday night after voters rejected Proposition 6, an initiative to repeal the gas tax increase the legislature passed last year. The revenue from the tax – projected to be more than $5 billion a year for ten years – goes toward road improvements and transit projects.

But that covers just a fraction of California’s infrastructure repair needs. According to a report from the American Society of Civil Engineers, the state would need to invest more than $130 billion over ten years to bring California’s roads back into “good repair.” Bridges, water infrastructure and public transit systems are also in desperate need of new investment. Improvements could help reduce the choking congestion many California drivers face.

Republicans in the House balked at the price tag for a federal infrastructure funding package. But with Democrats at the helm, their opposition will be less of an issue. The president said Tuesday he was open to compromise on an infrastructure plan.

Immigration

Pelosi promised vigorous oversight of some of the Trump administration’s most controversial immigration policies at her press conference in Washington Wednesday. “We are ashamed as a nation by a policy that takes babies out of the arms of their mothers, that builds tents and all the rest to house people under the separation of families,” she said. “We want to look into that.”

Immigrant advocates are also hoping Congress can reach a deal with the president to protect undocumented immigrants that were brought to the country as children, known as Dreamers. California is home to the most Dreamers of any state in the country.

But while Trump has said he wants to find a permanent solution to let these young immigrants stay in the country, his administration has sought to upend a program to protect Dreamers enacted by President Obama, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA. Most recently, the Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to intervene in the legal fight to end that Obama-era program. That posture doesn’t bode well for a compromise between the president and Democrats on DACA.

House Democrats, however, also have leverage with Trump: they will have the power to block funding for his proposed wall along the southern border with Mexico. Asked about the prospects for immigration reform on Wednesday, Pelosi said only, “we have find common ground, we have to try to find a path.”

Healthcare

Congressional Republicans’ aims of overturning Obamacare and shrinking entitlement programs like Medicaid and Medicare died with Democrats’ House victories Tuesday night. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky acknowledged as much on Wednesday. “I think it’s pretty obvious that a Democratic House is not going to be interested in” repealing the Affordable Care Act, as Obamacare is formally known.

Likewise, he said, “the Democrats have made it perfectly clear that they are not interested in dealing with entitlements and they’re in a position to say ‘no’ and so I don’t think that will be on the agenda.”

That’s likely to come as a relief to the nearly 20 million Californians that rely on Medicare or Medicaid.

McConnell did maintain that “there are serious problems with Obamacare.” He also said Congress is “going to have to obviously try to address it on a bipartisan basis.”

Reining in prescription drug prices is one specific priority both McConnell and Pelosi highlighted Wednesday. California tried to tackle skyrocketing drug costs, on its own, with a 2017 transparency law. Federal legislation to contain price increases would likely have more of an impact.

Emma Dumain contributed to this story.

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