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Where might Congress cut through gridlock?


One-party rule in Washington ended this month, as the split 118th Congress gaveled into session — Republicans narrowly hold the House, Democrats have a slight edge in the Senate and a Democrat sits in the White House.

It won’t be easy getting much through this sharply divided Congress, but there may be some avenues for legislation — thanks to a few broad areas where the parties agree and some surprising alliances.

Here are a few of the possibilities: 

Farm bill 

The farm bill is the main agricultural and food policy bill that comes up every five years. The current farm bill expires in September, and it funds priorities like nutrition assistance, crop subsidies, rural development, agricultural research, and food assistance. 

About 75% of the funding of the bill goes to nutrition assistance, which is sure to be one of the major areas of contention. The legislation has roots in the Great Depression, and was supposed to be temporary assistance to the agricultural industry and by extension, Americans on the whole. But it has become a staple of federal spending, and covers much more now than it did initially. The farm bill funds the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly called food stamps, which helps cover the grocery bills of low-income Americans. 

Ukraine funding

Several Republicans have criticized funding for Ukraine, as that country defends itself against Russian aggression. While Democrats controlled the House last May, 57 Republicans voted against aid to Ukraine. Ahead of the midterm elections, now-Speaker Kevin McCarthy said a GOP-controlled House wouldn’t sign a “blank check” for Ukraine. 

But except for the right wing of the party, Republicans and Democrats largely support Ukraine, and it’s more likely that the Republican-controlled Congress would continue to support Ukraine, while placing conditions on the funding, requiring more accountability on the spending and bargaining for other GOP priorities.

China

Republicans and Democrats have already been able to find common ground in the 118th Congress on addressing China’s global influence.

The House on Tuesday voted 365-64 to form the Select Committee on Strategic Competition Between the U.S. and the Chinese Communist Party. The new committee, which also won the votes of 146 Democrats, will focus on economic security and competition in the face of China’s rise and will be chaired by GOP Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin. Taiwan is sure to be a subject of the committee, as Beijing escalates its rhetoric and shows more aggressive military behavior in the Taiwan Strait. 

Navigating the relationship with China and keeping a competitive edge over China is a frequent topic for members of the Biden administration. 

“We are more prepared to out-compete China, protect our national security, and advance a free and open Indo-Pacific than ever before,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Wednesday. “Many of our efforts we have been pursuing are bipartisan, underscoring the alignment at home on the key issue. We look forward to the committee getting stood up and we’ll continue to work with Democrats and Republicans in Congress on this issue. It is a top priority as we talk about out-competing China.” 

Stock Act reform 

There’s also some momentum behind strengthening legislation that bans lawmaker insider trading and requires expeditious disclosure of stock trades but is only lightly enforced.

The Senate held months of talks on reforming the Stock Act, but the House ultimately abandoned a vote on a bill to reform it in the last Congress. Time then ran out for votes on any major changes to the act, but a bill could find support in the 118th Congress, since some Republicans favor it — including the new speaker.

Conservative GOP Rep. Chip Roy, of Texas, joined Democratic Reps. Abigail Spanberger and Raja Krishnamoorthi in extensive work on the issue in 2022. Last year, McCarthy said he supported some version of a stock ban if Republicans were to take back the House. 

McCarthy, asked how he might work with a Biden administration, said he wants to “work with anyone who wants to work to make America better.” 

“We’re going to have different philosophical positions,” McCarthy said last month. “I’m going to make sure that we fight to secure the border. We want to become energy independent. We want parents to have a say in their kids’ education and we want to hold government accountable. So, we’re going to have to find ways to work together, and I think we can do that.”

John Nolen, Rebecca Kaplan, Ellis Kim and Jack Turman contributed to this report. 



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