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Uncertain air in Congress

The midterm elections are over except the counting. What relief!

Barring any major hitches in the canvassing of votes, the new composition of the two chambers of Congress and local government units may be known in two weeks.

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Judging from the surveys, however, there may not be a lot of surprises on the roster of incoming national and local government officials. Same names, same faces.

After the official proclamation of the winning candidates is done, preparations for the 2022 national elections would unofficially commence for politicians who think they are God’s blessing to our country.

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With an eye to 2022, expect presidential and vice presidential wannabes to push back on administration-sponsored programs or projects that, for one reason or another, will not sit well with the public.

Although President Duterte has three years to go in his term, his political clout and influence would not be as strong as when he took office in 2016. As some political analysts put it, he would soon be a lameduck President.

It’s common knowledge that the House of Representatives dances to the tune of whoever is in Malacañang. But the same cannot be said of the Senate which consists of 24 “independent” republics, or of men and women who think their national constituency qualifies them to become future presidents or vice presidents.

The election of senators allied or identified with the President is no assurance they will do the administration’s biddings.

As historical experience has shown, political favors granted in the past are conveniently forgotten if paying them back would have adverse consequences to strategic political ambitions.

To paraphrase a famous saying, there are no permanent political allies or enemies, only personal interests.

This situation may put at risk the tax reform programs being pushed by the government’s economic managers. These measures aim to overhaul the country’s fiscal policies and practices to help fund, among others, the administration’s “Build, Build, Build” program.

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Because the financial or economic status quo is bound to be disturbed by these programs, expect the affected parties (read: businesses) to lobby hard against their enactment into law, or try to water them down to minimize their adverse effects.

Senators and congressmen who nurture presidential or vice presidential ambitions in 2022 could find themselves in the crosshairs of intense lobbying efforts by businesses with deep pockets and are known to hedge their bets in national elections.

Thus, unless the President takes an active hand in steering those measures through Congress, the remaining tax reforms may get stuck in the legislative mill or, worse, rejected.

Recall that until the President stepped into the picture, the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law was practically dead in the legislative waters. It took almost two years before it was enacted into law.

Another hurdle is Congress getting sidetracked by legislative investigation on issues or events that may arise in the coming months.

Inquiries “in aid of legislation,” as they are officially described, on controversial or sensational subject matters are perfect publicity venues.

Between hearings on tax issues that do not make good copy for the evening TV news and the broadsheets, and hearings that attract public discussion for, say, their gore or involvement of prominent personalities, the latter would, hands down, receive the full attention of our lawmakers.

But who knows? The incoming members of Congress may be made of better stuff, so we might still have a set of lawmakers who have the best interests of the country at heart.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

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