ARTBA 2020 Election Preview


The 2020 elections will have consequences that could last well beyond the term of every candidate whose name appears on a Nov. 3 ballot.

The presidential contest is arguably one of the most widely documented and analyzed political events in American history. That coverage will continue until Election Day and beyond, but the outcome of non-presidential elections will have an equal, if not more significant, impact on many of the issues of interest to the transportation construction industry.

This report provides you with an ARTBA-focused preview of the playing field for key races and the impact of those outcomes on major transportation policy and funding decisions.

For information on the presidential race, see ARTBA’s “Presidential Candidates on Transportation” guide.

U.S. House of Representatives

Absent another bombshell in a year full of them, Democrats appear poised to retain control in the U.S. House of Representatives. They hold a 34-seat majority in the chamber, and many prognosticators forecast they will add to that margin.

The anticipated stability in the House is significant because the rules of that institution effectively empower the majority party—regardless of the size of its advantage—to advance legislation with little input from minority members.

U.S. Senate

By contrast, control of the U.S. Senate is very much at stake. Of the 35 seats up for election, 23 are held by Republicans and 12 by Democrats. Twelve of those races are considered competitive.

If the GOP loses a net of four seats, or three seats and the White House as the vice president breaks any tie votes, the Democrats would take control for the first time since 2015.

Governors Races

Eleven states will select new governors. Nine of the 11 states have an incumbent, and three races are considered competitive. Expect much more attention to gubernatorial races in 2022 when 36 seats are up for grabs.

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While the election season has consumed members of Congress and the Trump administration, there
is a significant amount of 2020 work still to be completed. The productivity of any post-election “lame duck” congressional session will largely depend on whether Republicans retain a majority in the Senate. If Democrats are successful in wresting control of the upper chamber, past practice indicates House Democrats may wait until the new majority is sworn-in at the beginning of 2021 before finalizing any legislation.

Front-Burner Issues

FY 2021 Appropriations: Federal spending for transportation and other general government programs are operating under a continuation of current levels until Dec. 11. Congress will either finalize these investments later this year or—if the Senate flips—pass another interim measure effective through early 2021.

COVID-19 Response: Economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic will stretch well into 2021 and likely beyond, and the pressure for Congress to pass additional aid packages will continue. Additional relief for state and local government has been and will remain a major part of these discussions— including aid to state departments of transportation and other transportation modes. The scale, scope and substance of legislation will significantly be influenced by election results.

Tax Extenders: Each year, legislators try to attach expiring tax provisions to any must-pass legislation. Given the number of tax provisions included in prior COVID-19-related bills, there will be a push to extend them beyond 2020. Many key provisions in 2017’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, such as full expensing of equipment or increased estate tax exemption, do not expire in 2021.

2021 Priorities

Surface Transportation Program Reauthorization: The federal highway, bridge and public transit programs expire Sept. 30, 2021, following recent congressional action on a one-year extension of the current surface transportation law. This means that despite substantial progress on robust proposals in both the House and Senate, the new Congress will have to start the reauthorization process over again and take action before next fall’s expiration deadline.

Executive Branch Transition: Regardless of the outcome of this year’s presidential race, expect filling key administration posts to be a major activity in 2021. Cabinet and sub-cabinet turnover is common during a second term of a re-elected president. Similarly, populating the executive branch with new appointees is often one of the most impactful actions of a new president.

Final Thoughts

ARTBA’s mission to responsibly advocate for infrastructure investment and policy that meet the nation’s need for safe and efficient travel is a constant that does not ebb and flow with elections or other external events. Our pursuit of that objective necessitates productive relationships with elected officials on Capitol Hill and in the White House regardless of party affiliation. That reputation and record has served us well for over a century and will continue to do so long after the 2020 elections.

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