The midterm elections are over and an evenly split 118th Congress will convene early next year, but the 117th Congress still has time to accomplish more. It may take these extra weeks on the legislative schedule to bolster the financial stability of Main Streets across the country and the rights of Americans.
While post-election sessions, known as lame-deck sessions, have ended ahead of schedule, Congress still has key areas to address for working Americans and small businesses before going home for the rest of the year. Some can stabilize the economy and democracy and others will enshrine in law the rights established by the Supreme Court. Given the limited time policymakers have to work with, here are three actions the 117th Congress should take before adjourning.
1. Modernize the Voter Registration Act
Weakened democracies are also unsafe global investments, and we’ve seen the Electoral Count Act of 1887 exploited over the past 20 years, culminating in the chaos of January 6, 2021. Bipartisan legislation would modernize and clarify rules for counting presidential election votes that the vice president does not have the authority to accept or reject voters alone. It would also raise the threshold for objecting to a state’s voters. This proposal has the support of both Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer [D-NY] and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell [R-KY], demonstrating its practical approach to modernizing the arcane law of 1887. A strong economy relies on a strong democracy, and this legislation would strengthen the stability and transparency of our democratic system to peacefully transfer power between administrations . Congress cannot leave without approving 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 Obergefell v Hodgesthe 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 Against Virginia (1967) which ruled that states banning interracial marriage violated 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 precedents, and some judges have explicitly threatened to overturn marriage equality, particularly the rights of same-sex couples. There are more than half a million married same-sex couples in the US today, and if states were given the power to annul these marriages, the financial consequences for them would be disastrous. For starters, there would be an immediate disruption to their banking and retirement planning that only divorced couples experience by choice. It would also impact the 1.4 million LGBTQ businesses in communities that generate more than $1.7 trillion for the U.S. economy and support 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 would have to vote to raise the debt ceiling to prevent the next Congress from attempting to exploit the debt ceiling increase in a potentially self-destructive way. The federal government is expected to hit its $31.4 trillion borrowing limit sometime in 2023. That may seem like a lifetime from now, but we’ve 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 fails to pay off its debts, the consequences will be catastrophic and range from falling stock markets to more expensive small business loans. A analysis by Moody’s Analytics, chief economist Mark Zandi estimates that a default on the national debt would wipe out as many as 6 million jobs and wipe out $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 they need to open their own businesses and create jobs, and the past three years have been marked by instability. Congressional lame-duck sessions are generally defined by the issues that can’t wait until next year. We can’t wait for next year in 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 needs to take these three steps before being suspended.