Change in Congress

Key leadership shifts could impact NACS legislative issues.

Change in Congress

April 2021

By: Jon Taets

After some significant delays in organizing the 117th Congress largely due to the Georgia special elections and the subsequent result of an evenly divided Senate, we finally know which members will be chairs and ranking members of key congressional committees. The House will largely stay the same, as the Democrats retained their majority, albeit a significantly narrowed one, which will make their ability to pass the most progressive legislation all the more difficult. More major changes have taken place in the Senate, where Democrats wrestled the majority from the Republicans for the first time since the 113th Congress.

Chamber Control

Leadership of each chamber remains unchanged, with the obvious exception of the Republicans and Democrats switching roles over in the Senate. In the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA-12), Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD-5) and Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC-6) all retained their leadership positions. Similarly, the Republican leadership team of Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA-23), Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA-1) and Conference Chair Liz Cheney (R-WY-AL) were re-elected as their party’s leadership. In the Senate, the players stayed the same, but Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) swapped spots with now Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Minority Whip John Thune (R-TX). That change is certainly impactful, as even under the power-sharing agreement the parties forged, Schumer will now have primary control over what reaches the Senate floor.

House Committees

One significant change on the House side is the leadership of the House Agriculture Committee. That committee has jurisdiction over the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Our industry’s participation in SNAP came under threat during the Obama Administration—something we may see again as President Biden nominated Obama’s Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack, to the same position in the new administration; yet, during the Obama years, NACS found significant allies among the leadership of the House Agriculture Committee to help stave off those threats. While Reps. Collin Peterson (D-MN-7) and Mike Conaway (R-TX-11) were generally supportive of our industry either as the chair or ranking member of that committee, neither of them returned for the 117th Congress. However, the convenience and fuel retailing industry should consider itself fortunate with the members who were selected to replace them. The new chair of the committee is Rep. David Scott (D-GA-13), who has supported our industry’s participation in the SNAP program and on other issues, such as menu labeling, in the past. Similarly, we have an ally in the new Republican Ranking Member Glenn “G.T.” Thompson (R-PA-15). NACS will continue to leverage good relationships with the Agriculture Committee’s new leadership should the new administration seek to take actions detrimental to our industry.

The powerful Energy and Commerce Committee, where most of our industry’s key legislation is handled and will be a focal point for Democrats as they develop their climate change agenda, also saw a change in its Republican leadership. Former Ranking Member Greg Walden (R-OR-2) retired at the end of the 116th Congress. His spot was assumed by another key industry ally, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA-5). Rep. McMorris Rodgers has long been an industry champion, including during her prior role as the Republican Conference chair. She was the lead sponsor of NACS-supported legislation to amend the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s “menu labeling” rule and has remained a supporter on a host of issues under the committee’s jurisdiction. On the Democrat side, Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ-6) has returned for his second term leading the committee. NACS and Chairman Pallone have disagreed on some issues such as tobacco and menu labeling regulations, but NACS continues to work with the chairman and his staff on a number of issues important to the industry.

NACS is relying on you to help drive our industry’s message home to these members.

Many of the other House committees that have jurisdiction over key NACS priority issues retained the same leadership structures they had during the 116th Congress. The House Financial Services Committee, which has jurisdiction over most payments issues that remain a top priority of NACS members, retained its leadership of Chair Maxine Waters (D-CA-43) and Ranking Member Patrick McHenry (R-NC-10). The House Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over issues such as patent reform, has played a role in the privacy issues NACS has worked on and has jurisdiction over antitrust issues, which may come into play as well, has retained its leadership from the second half of the 116th Congress. Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY-10) has returned as the committee’s chairman, and Ranking Member Jim Jordan (R-OH-4), who took over that spot in early 2020, returned as well.

The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which holds jurisdiction over many important issues, such as electric vehicle charging infrastructure and will play a larger role in the Democrats’ overall climate change agenda, will be helmed by Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR-4) and Ranking Member Sam Graves (R-MO-6) as it was during the last Congress.

The House Ways and Means Committee, which overseas the federal tax policy and likely will be quite busy as Democrats could seek to amend much of the tax reform legislation passed into law in 2017, also retained its leadership with Chairman Richie Neal (D-MA-1) and Ranking Member Michael Burgess (R-TX-26).

Significant Senate Shifts

The Senate is the scene of much more significant changes atop key committees because of the majority shift to the Democrats following victories in Georgia Senate run-off elections. Those January races left the chamber evenly divided. In such a scenario, the Constitution gives the vice president, in her role as president of the Senate, the ability to break tie votes. By virtue of that authority, the Democrats are the majority party in the Senate, and they will hold the gavels as committee chairs, even though Republicans and Democrats will have an equal number of seats on each committee. The Democrats will control the committee’s agendas, and the agreement states that legislation that receives a tied vote in a committee can still advance to the floor. In situations where one party has a clear majority of even one seat, tied votes mean legislation would not advance. On the Republican side, several senators who held chairmanships on key committees retired, causing a game of musical chairs among Republicans.

As with the House, the changes at the Senate Agriculture Committee may prove significant to the SNAP program. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) moves from ranking member to chairwoman of that committee. Stabenow has previously taken policy positions that would challenge our industry’s participation in the SNAP program. On the Republican side, former Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS), who was an ally of our industry on many issues under the committee’s jurisdiction, retired at the end of the 116th Congress. Replacing Roberts as the top Republican on the committee is Sen. John Boozman (R-AR). 

Major changes have taken place in the Senate, where Democrats wrestled the majority from the Republicans for the first time since the 113th Congress.

In the Senate, some payments issues are in the Banking Committee domain. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) has moved from ranking member to chairman. On the GOP side, former Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) has stepped down as the top committee Republican to take the reins of the Finance Committee. Crapo remains a senior member of the committee, but Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) is now the ranking member. Toomey will be replaced after this Congress, as he plans to retire at the end of the 117th Congress.

Transportation-related matters are handled primarily in the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which is one where the chair and ranking member are simply swapping roles. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) has taken over as the committee’s chair, and Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) is now the committee’s ranking member. The committee has far-reaching jurisdiction beyond transportation and is the primary committee for interstate commerce, giving it significant reach.

While the majority of the Democrats’ climate change agenda will be focused in the Energy and Commerce Committee on the House side, it is likely to be a bit more spread out in the upper chamber. Two committees that will see the lion’s share of work in that space are the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the Environment and Public Works Committee.

On the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has shifted from ranking member to chair. Sen. Manchin has often been a key player in the Senate due to his moderate political beliefs, but in the evenly divided chamber, he is emerging as a true power player. NACS has long enjoyed a good relationship with Sen. Manchin, and we will continue to work with him and his staff in his new role. For the Republicans, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AL) has vacated the top slot due to term limits, though she remains on the committee. Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) has moved over from his previous spot as chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee to take over for Murkowski as the top Republican on Energy and Natural Resources. NACS also has a longstanding relationship with Sen. Barrasso that NACS will continue to pursue.

Following the pattern of many of the other committees, the top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee from the last Congress has moved over to become the chair during this Congress. In this case, it’s Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE). As referenced above, Sen. Barrasso has shifted from this committee to lead the Republicans on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Filling his previous role as the top Republican on Environment and Public Works is Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV). Capito has often been a friend to our industry and is likely to continue.

Tax issues are in the jurisdiction of the Senate Finance Committee, so it’s likely to be busy later this year, as the Democrats may attempt to repeal some parts of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which became law in 2017. For the Democrats, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) has moved from ranking member to chair of the committee. As mentioned previously, Sen. Crapo has shifted from the top Republican on the Banking Committee to take over for Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) as the top Republican on Finance after Grassley moved over to be ranking member of the Judiciary Committee.

Tax issues are in the jurisdiction of the Senate Finance Committee, so it’s likely to be busy later this year.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee is another that has considerable sway over convenience and fuel retailing. It has jurisdiction over the Affordable Care Act and labor policy, two areas of significance. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), who has opposed NACS efforts to streamline menu labeling regulations in the past, has become the chair of the HELP Committee. Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), who is someone that NACS has worked well with over the years, has assumed the top GOP slot on the committee following the retirement of Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN). Burr, like Toomey, has announced his intention to retire at the end of this Congress, meaning there will be a new Republican leader on that committee in two years. The HELP Committee is likely to remain very active this Congress.

Finally, Sen. Durbin, a longtime champion for the industry on payments issues, has assumed the chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee. There may be opportunities to work with Durbin on that issue and others in his new role. Sen. Grassley has moved from the top Republican slot on Finance to take the ranking member role at Judiciary after Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) vacated that slot to take over the ranking member position of the Senate Budget Committee.

Your Voice Matters

There are familiar faces in new places across key congressional committees. Another significant factor is the changeovers among the committee staff rosters that come along with the shifts in majorities and/or new members taking over key roles. NACS is busy working to leverage existing relationships and building new ones to help advocate for your businesses. You can play a significant role as well. When there are this many changes across so many key committees, grassroots engagement is even more important. NACS is relying on you to help drive our industry’s message home to these members and others through our VoterVoice portal and other means. Your voices are truly the most effective messaging tool that NACS has when engaging with lawmakers.

NACS Top Issues and Committees to Watch

Cannabis: House and Senate Judiciary committees

Climate and EVs: Senate Environment and Public Works Committee; Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee; House Energy and Commerce Committee; and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee

Labor: Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee; and House Labor and Education Committee

Liability: Senate Judiciary Committee and House Judiciary Committee

Online Gaming/Internet Gambling: Senate Judiciary Committee and House Judiciary Committee

Payments: Senate Banking Committee and House Financial Services Committee

Privacy and Data Security: Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and House Energy and Commerce Committee

Tax: Senate Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Committee

Jon Taets

Jon Taets

Jon Taets is NACS director of government relations. He can be reached at jtaets@