The 118th Congress Begins
Today, January 3, 2023, the 118th Congress begins. There is a divided government with Republicans controlling the House of Representatives and Democrats controlling the Senate and White House. Before the 118th Congress can begin governing, leadership votes, swearing in of new members and committee assignments need to occur. In the Senate, the process to begin the 118th Congress will likely go as expected. Democrats will maintain control of the Senate, but gain a seat with a 51-49 majority which means they will have outright majorities on committees. Senate Democrats will likely be less progressive in legislating in this Congress, as the Senate 2024 election cycle will likely have some difficult races for Democrats.
The House of Representatives, on the other hand, is set up for a very interesting week and legislative cycle. The House of Representatives will vote today on who will be Speaker of the House. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) needs to receive a majority of those voting by name to become Speaker of the House. However, there are number of House Republicans who may not vote for McCarthy on the floor today. McCarthy has released a rules package for the 118th Congress, which outlines the rules and standards that the House has to follow during the 118th Congress. It has a number of key concessions to conservative Republicans in order to gain their votes. Some new rules in that proposal include the end of proxy voting, no “virtual” or “hybrid” committee hearings, removal of magnetometers outside the House chamber, removal of potential fines for mask or security protocol violations, and all bills will be posted for 72 hours before a final vote. We will see if that’s enough for him to gain the votes he needs to become Speaker, but multiple rounds of voting may be necessary, this could take some time, and it isn’t out-of-the-question that someone else is elected Speaker instead. Importantly, the new members of Congress are not sworn in until after the Speaker is elected so the House is really on hold until this is complete.
In healthcare, one of the largest changes that stakeholders are watching for in the 118th Congress is the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee under the leadership of Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) as Chair and Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) as Ranking Member. Both Senator Sanders and Cassidy can make a great deal of noise in the healthcare space in their new leadership roles. However, overall impact on healthcare will be limited to the jurisdiction of the Senate HELP Committee.
We will also be closely watching new committee assignments, and how the makeup of the committees may impact legislation in the 118th Congress. We are looking forward to another interesting Congress!