We are two months into the second session of the 114th Congress, and to date things have been moving slowly. 2016 is an election year and a presidential cycle, which means the legislative calendar is condensed for the National Conventions and so lawmakers can go home to campaign. Add a few snowstorms in a city that’s not equipped to handle them, and that doesn’t leave much time for Congress to accomplish anything that isn’t 100 percent necessary.
So like Congress, I want to spend the majority of this post focusing on elections. To my friends in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina: Don’t worry, this is not going to be related to the presidential primaries in your state.
Specifically, I want to talk about the Senate elections. A quick refresher about the Senate before we get started:
- Once elected to office, Senators serve a term of six years
- Terms are staggered so that one-third of the Senate is up for re-election every two years (34 seats this cycle)
- The current makeup of the Senate is 54 Republicans, 44 Democrats and two Independents (who caucus with the Democrats).
There’s a lot at stake with 34 Senate seats and the Senate majority up for grabs in this year, but in some ways the Brewers Association and small and independent craft brewers will continue to fare well no matter who wins. Why? Very simply, craft brewers have broad bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate. You are job-creating small businesses who make an impact in your communities, and that has helped to garner a lot of fans in Congress (246 legislators are members of the Small Brewers Caucuses).
There are, however, reasons to pay attention to your local Senate race.
- 13 of the 34 Senators up for re-election are co-sponsors of the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act (CBMTRA). In fact, Senators Wyden (D-OR) and Blunt (R-MO) are the lead sponsors of the bill (though both are expected to handily win their elections). Other members who are vocal proponents of the bill, like Sen. Bennet (D-CO) and Sen. Portman (R-OH), are going to have tough elections in key swing states.
- 11 members of the Senate Finance Committee are up for re-election. This committee is where tax issues like CBMTRA get decided. Close to half the committee is up for re-election, which means members will be spending a lot of time in their home states to focus on their primary and general election campaigns. This is a great opportunity to invite them to visit your brewery!
- 24 of the 34 seats up in the Senate are held by Republicans, which means that the Senate Democrats may have a chance to regain the majority. This could impact the work done in 2016, specifically during the “lame-duck” session. A majority switch in the Senate might mean that Congress will want to accomplish some big things before the end of the year and the start of a new president’s first term.
- Because the Senate term is a six-year cycle, you likely have had a chance to build good relationships with your Senators and their staff. Be prepared for some of your contacts in those offices to change. The good news is that the staff and legislative assistants that you have met will likely stay on the Hill and move up in rank, but they might not be in the same office and their legislators may move to different committees.
As I mentioned before, craft brewers and the legislation we support are popular on both sides of the aisle. So these elections, though important, will likely not have a negative effect on the issues that are important to craft brewers. But that doesn’t mean we can afford to be apathetic! As the craft brewing community continues to expand its influence, it is important that we remain politically engaged. I encourage all of you to grow your relationships with legislators and staff, invite them to visit your breweries, and remain vocal about your support of the CBMTRA.
Election Day is still months away—who knows what will happen between now and then? The only thing I know for sure is that we will all be sick of the commercials by the time November 8 rolls around.