Midterm Elections Precipitate Return to Divided Government

Published on November 18, 2022 by Yehuda Sugarman

In the midterm elections on November 8, the widely anticipated “red wave” did not materialize as Democrats outperformed pre-election expectations and historical odds.

In the U.S. Senate, Democrats retained control of the chamber and will maintain at least 50 seats compared to 49 for the Republicans, pending the outcome of a December 6th runoff election in Georgia between Hershel Walker (R) and incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock (D). The outcome of that election will determine whether Democrats gain an outright majority easing their control of committees and the legislative agenda, or if the chamber remains split 50-50 with Vice President Kamala Harris casting tie-breaking votes.

Republicans, however, will retake control of the U.S. House of Representatives in the 118th Congress. The size of their majority depends on the outcome of six races that have yet to be called. The GOP has won at least 218 seats, which is the number required to control the chamber, and will have a very slim majority to work with. The flip to GOP control in the House means there will be a return to divided government, likely resulting in greater congressional gridlock over the next two years.

Notably, all incumbent dentists in Congress won reelection and will return to the U.S. House in January. That includes Reps. Mike Simpson (R-ID) who was elected to his 13th term in Congress, Brian Babin (R-TX), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Jeff Van Drew (R-NJ), and Drew Ferguson (R-GA) who currently serves as the Republican Chief Deputy Whip.

In Massachusetts, voters overwhelmingly approved a measure that creates several new regulations for dental insurance companies, including a requirement that companies spend at least 83% of money collected from dental plan premiums on patient care instead of administrative expenses. This is the first law in the country to require a medical loss ratio for dental insurers (health insurers are already subject to the requirement) and could be a model for other states to follow. The measure, which takes effect January 1, 2024, also authorizes the state to approve or disapprove of dental benefit plan rates.

Looking ahead to the 118th Congress, policymaking will be very challenging given the narrow majorities in each chamber and the vastly different priorities for Democrats in the Senate and Republicans in the House. We’re therefore unlikely to see many pieces of legislation enacted into law beyond “must-pass” bills, such as increasing the debt ceiling or passing a budget to fund the federal government – the basic responsibilities of government – and even those may struggle to advance.

With both chambers of Congress nearly evenly divided, individual lawmakers will have outsized influence to challenge their party’s leadership or steer legislation in one direction, akin to the role Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) played the last two years. Centrist lawmakers may play a larger role if they can bring together the two chambers on compromise legislation. Groups on the fringes might also leverage their power by threatening to withhold support for their party’s legislation in order to win concessions.

Thankfully, most of AADOCR’s strongest champions on Capitol Hill were reelected and will maintain their positions on the committees with jurisdiction over dental, oral, and craniofacial research. Some medical research champions will have even greater sway over these issues in the next Congress, such as Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) who is in line to succeed retiring Senate Appropriations Chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), a strong advocate for biomedical research funding, who will likely take over as the Republican leader of the Senate Appropriations Committee.