Reflecting on the 117th Congress
This week, the 118th Congress convened. And while the dramatic (and as yet unsuccessful) Speaker’s election has dominated the headlines, the Office of Government Relations is focused on the opportunities for meaningful advocacy in a new Congress. But before we look ahead, we want to take this opportunity to reflect on some of the successes of the 117th Congress.
The 117th Congress was remarkably successful by many metrics, especially given the slim majority in the House of Representatives and the 50/50 split in the Senate. As the Office of Government Relations, we had the opportunity to deepen our relationships with Congressional leadership, connect with new members, and continue to work in a bipartisan manner to achieve our objectives. We leveraged meetings with policymakers, statements, and sign-on letters to urge action and demonstrate the unified voices of myriad organizations we work with in the advocacy space.
You were an integral part of our success in supporting The Episcopal Church’s witness in the realm of public policy. Episcopal Public Policy Network members such as yourself responded to the 79 action alerts we shared during the 117th Congressional session by sending more than 52,000 messages to Congress. Leaders in the Church, including bishops, other clergy, and lay Episcopalians had in-person and virtual meetings with Members of Congress and Congressional offices, and participated in advocacy trainings to learn how to do more.
The Office of Government Relations continued our efforts to support the EPPN and the Church by continuing to host weekly Episcopal Public Policy Network Calls (you can register here!), hosting webinars, including our new “A Closer Look with OGR” series, and by participating as guests in webinars hosted by our partners, such as the Church Pension Group.
OGR’s EPPN Ambassadors volunteer group continued to grow both in number and depth of work, helping to amplify our messaging and build relationships across the church. We also began a second volunteer program, modeled after our ambassador program, called Episcopal Election Activators. These committed Episcopalians helped get out the vote for the 2022 midterms, the elections that led to a new slate of public officials starting their new roles this week. The commitment to Vote Faithfully helps continue the necessary civic processes that help our communities and government function.
Our work on legislation was extensive, and members of Congress such as Rep. Nadler even highlighted The Episcopal Church’s support for the Equality Act during a floor speech! l Some of the legislation we worked on that passed Congress and was signed into law includes:
- The American Rescue Plan: This helped to address economic challenges during the pandemic, as well as creating an expanded Child Tax Credit to cut child poverty in half
- Prison Phone Calls: High phone call rates have imposed an undue financial burden on so many parents, siblings, and children who want to stay connected with their family and loved ones in prison. The bicameral passage of the Martha Wright-Reed Just and Reasonable Communications Act allows the Federal Communications Commission to establish a just and reasonable rate for calls in correctional and detention facilities.
- Pregnant Workers Fairness Act: As part of the omnibus appropriations bill passed at the end of the 117th Congress, this legislation would ensure reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers, protecting them and their babies from potential health complications.
- Respect for Marriage Act: This legislation repealed the 1996 so-called “Defense of Marriage” Act (DOMA), which the Supreme Court struck down in the 2013 United States v. Windsor case. DOMA enacted a federal definition of marriage and prohibited same-sex married couples from accessing federal benefits available to heterosexual married couples. Enacting the Respect for Marriage Act ensures that the federal right to marriage equality cannot be infringed by future Supreme Court rulings.
- Electoral Count Act Reform: While hopes for greater action on voting rights and election-related reforms were dashed, Congress did pass necessary legislation related to updating the Electoral Count Act of the late 1800s, which deals primarily with certifying elections and the transition of power. This legislation was also a product of deliberations by a bipartisan group of Senators, representing a range of conservative and liberal views, who are focusing on democracy-related legislation.
- Bipartisan Safer Communities Act: This landmark legislation extends background checks for gun purchasers under age 21, provides funding for state red flag laws and other crisis prevention programs, enhances penalties for convicted arms traffickers and straw purchasers, and partially closes the boyfriend loophole. Gun violence prevention has long been a priority for the Church, and we have partnered with organizations such as Bishops United Against Gun Violence to advocate for meaningful reforms.
- Inflation Reduction Act: This legislation contained many of The Episcopal Church’s priorities, including provisions on addressing climate change, environmental racism, healthcare, and anti-poverty.
- Global Malnutrition Prevention and Treatment Act: Signed into law on October 19, this legislation authorizes USAID to advance targeted programs to prevent and treat malnutrition around the world. It also helps to elevate the focus on nutrition programs across various global health interventions, food security systems, and other sectors, and requires USAID to coordinate efforts with other development agencies, partner governments, and local actors.
- Global Food Security Reauthorization Act: Passed by Congress as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This bill authorizes the Feed the Future program through 2028. Feed the Future is a U.S. government program that works with low-income countries to develop resilient agriculture systems and boost nutrition.
- Burma Act: Also passed through the NDAA was the Burma Act. The bill authorizes additional targeted sanctions against individuals and entities who helped stage the February 1 coup d’état and are responsible for the subsequent repression of fundamental freedoms, human rights abuses, use of indiscriminate violence towards civilians, and other gross atrocities.
- Bipartisan Infrastructure Law: This bill provides funding for a variety of infrastructure projects including roads, bridges, airports, railways, public transportation, and more. It also includes funding for grid resiliency, tackling pollution, and vehicle electrification. Along with the IRA, these laws provide the basis for the United States’ climate policy in the age of climate change.
- The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act: This bipartisan legislation prohibits imports made by forced labor into the United States of products made in Xinjiang. U.S. government departments and agencies are already working to implement this law.
- Big Cats Act: This legislation prohibits the private ownership of big cats as pets and prevents the public from having direct contact with them. It is designed to help protect both big cats and the public.
While we celebrate these successes, we know we still have much to do, from immigration reform, to anti-poverty measures such as a Child Tax Credit, and further investments in addressing climate change and environmental racism. We look forward to continuing this work in the 118th Congress.
The Office of Government Relations