Constituent policy

What the U.S. Midterm Elections Mean for Climate Policy and Public Health

A couple arrives to vote at the Anthem Center in Henderson, Nevada, during early voting on October 24, 2022

Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

On November 8, American voters will decide whether the Democrats maintain their slim majority in both houses of Congress. This, in turn, will determine whether President Joe Biden’s administration will be able to pursue its agenda over the next two years. The midterm election – which takes place in the middle of each presidential term – is also expected to shift the balance of power in state governments, with races in every state legislature and 36 gubernatorial elections.

Here’s how the election results could affect three key science issues: climate change, reproductive health care and covid-19 politics.

Climate change

The Cut Inflation Act passed by Congress in August of this year represented the federal government’s first serious climate legislation and was a key achievement announced by Democrats during the midterm debates. The more than $300 billion it is investing in climate and energy initiatives will accelerate the race to decarbonize in the United States and elsewhere, with measures in the bill expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. in the United States up to 44% below 2005 levels by 2030.

It’s the law now, but congressional oversight will determine how it’s implemented, says Corey Schrodt at the Niskanen Center, a Washington DC-based right-wing think tank that advocates for environmental policy. Democratic control of Congress would give the Biden administration a freer hand to advance clean energy and other projects supported by the bill, as well as climate priorities, on the international stage. A Republican majority in either chamber could complicate matters. “This policy becomes the focus of efforts to repeal, eliminate and investigate,” Schrodt said.

If Republicans gain control of both houses of Congress, they would have a legislative avenue to repeal the law through a process called budget reconciliation, but Schrodt says that would be unlikely. “It’s always a rough road and industries can react badly to a repeal,” he says. He also says he’s seen “nuggets” of climate-related proposals in Republican platforms related to things like faster permits to mine the minerals critical for batteries and renewables. “I don’t think if there’s a Republican majority that’s going to be the complete end of climate action,” he says.

A proposal by West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin to fast-track permits for energy projects, including transmission lines needed to decarbonize the grid, was dropped in September amid opposition from Republicans and progressive Democrats. Authorizing the reform has since become a pressing issue for Democrats who fear a Republican-controlled Congress will accelerate fossil fuel development more than clean energy projects. State elections will also affect interstate transmission line projects, among other clean energy and climate priorities.

Access to abortion

The 2022 midterm elections will be the first U.S. elections in 50 years in which access to abortion is not a constitutionally guaranteed right.

The issue moved to the center of American politics in June when the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade – the landmark 1973 case that guaranteed a woman’s right to an abortion before the viability of the fetus. In Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the court’s conservative majority argued that abortion is not a constitutionally guaranteed right, leaving the matter up to state governments or Congress to decide.

In the months since that ruling, there have already been signs that doctors are delaying life-saving care for women due to concerns about lawsuits, and medical organizations such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists remain adamant that “abortion is an essential component of evidence-based comprehensive health care”.

Since the Dobbs decision, Democrats in Congress have tried to pass legislation that would guarantee the right to abortion in all states; two of these bills passed the House but failed to receive the necessary votes to be introduced in the Senate. Some Republicans in Congress have pushed for nationwide restrictions on abortion, such as a bill introduced by South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham that would ban most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Other Republican leaders have said decisions about abortion access should be left to the states.

States have already made changes. Thirteen states now ban abortions in most of the cases. Five states have passed laws banning abortions beyond a certain gestational limit. Ten states have bans or more restrictive laws that have been blocked by the courts as legal challenges unfold.

“Battles to protect access to abortion and all reproductive health care have been and will continue to be fought at the state level,” says Elizabeth Nashat the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research and advocacy group.

Beyond the races, California, Michigan and Vermont have measures on the ballot to protect abortion rights and support people seeking out-of-state abortions. Voters in Kentucky (where abortion is already banned in all cases) and Montana (where a 20-week abortion ban has been blocked by state courts) will decide on additional anti-abortion measures.

A recent study found that the number of abortions increased by 11% after the Dobbs decision in states where abortion procedures were loosely restricted, suggesting that people move between states to access care. The number of abortions nationwide decreased by 6%.

Covid-19

More than a million Americans have died from covid-19, millions more have symptoms of long covid and the virus continues to kill more than 300 people a day in the United States, according to Data compiled by The New York Times. Moreover, a soup of new variants should lead to a wave of new infections in the coming weeks.

Despite its continued impact, the pandemic has played far less of a role in midterm politics than it did in the 2020 election. Democrats have not focused on the issue. And Republicans have focused more on grievances over shutdowns and past terms.

Yet the outcome of the election will decide who will be in power in the third winter of covid-19, who could see cases increase with new variants and reduced restrictions, not to mention the impact of a continued increase in cases of respiratory syncytial virus in the US and the possibility of “twindemia” with influenza. Who’s in power could also determine health agency funding priorities, vaccination initiatives, testing and other health measures. Republican control of Congress may also mean investigations related to the origins of the virus as well as the federal response to the pandemic under the Biden administration, according to reports by STAT.

There are evidence that counties with Republican votes see more covid-19 deaths than those with majority Democratic votes, primarily due to different attitudes about vaccinations and other mitigation efforts. If the federal public health emergency declared in 2020 ends in 2023 – which Politico reports is the working hypothesis at the White House – that would leave more decisions about how to handle covid-19 to governors and state legislatures elected on November 8.

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