New Year, New Congress

Behind the scenes look at Congress in 2019 by A. Image of Nancy Pelosi via People

Dear Reader,

New year, new Congress! On January 3, when the 116th Congress convenes, its first order of business as a body will be to elect its leaders. Now that Democrats have majority membership in the house, they’ll have the deciding factor in selecting the Speaker of the House. Nancy Pelosi, who served as Speaker from 2007-2011, and as Minority Leader from 2011-2019 (making her the highest-ranking female politician in the history of the United States so far), is the likely successor to Paul Ryan. This weekend, as I walked down the House corridors, I watched shop workers clearing out the leadership offices, readying them to be flipped. Apparently, they’re already preparing the Speaker’s office for Pelosi, despite the fact that she hasn’t been officially elected to the position yet.

After the November elections, there was some worry that a small democratic coup would disrupt Pelosi’s bid for Speaker. However, after a few political favors were dolled out to her critics, it appears Pelosi has managed to whip up the necessary votes. Even if she hasn’t, she should be able to strike a deal with Republicans to ensure that some members are absent, in order to lower the threshold of votes needed to ensure her victory.

Once leadership elections and swearings-in have been settled, the real work will begin. We are now several days into a partial government shutdown that the White House has maneuvered so that it will drag on while Congress is in transition.

The unfortunate truth is that Congress hasn’t properly dealt with its budget issue in years. They’ve been at such an impasse over party politics that they’ve simply resorted to short-term fixes and passing continuations (or Continuing Resolutions) of previous budget plans.

The latest, very contentious congressional election was a major distraction. So, when members of Congress arrived back to work with just a few days left before their terms were set to end, they had a nearly insurmountable task ahead of them. Despite all this, they were able to agree on a budget that would fund the government until February and carry it into the new congressional term. However, this bill did not provide $5 billion in funding for a border wall, so the President indicated it would not pass his desk and become law. At this point, holiday break was just days away, and Congress was sent scrambling back to the drawing boards. Thinking the fate of the federal budget had been secured, many people had already flown home to be with their families.

Since all matters of budget must originate in the House of Representatives, many members had to fly straight back to Washington, DC. to draft an amended bill that would please the president. They managed to scrape together a bill that included border wall funding, but by the Friday before Christmas it was fairly clear that the Senate would not agree to the change, and shutdown was all but inevitable.

At work the next day, we all watched the Senate in a rare Saturday session, and it was almost refreshing to see Senate Leader Mitch McConnell chuckle at the absurdity of the situation as he read the long and redundant description of the bill that would not be passed into law. Since bills cannot be carried over into a new Congress, the incoming members of the House will have the daunting task of originating an entirely new budget that must pass a majority Republican Senate, not to mention the erratic personality occupying the Oval Office. It will be interesting to see how freshman members respond to this challenge.

We’re still working, since the shutdown primarily applies to executive branch employees, but at the beginning of 2019 there will be nearly 800,000 federal employees who will not be receiving the paycheck they depend on. Rest assured, I’ll be there on the opening day of the 116th Congress to keep you informed on all the chaos.

 

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