By Rachel Derby
On Jan. 3, the 118th U.S. Congress convened. The new session includes 89 freshman Representatives, the largest incoming class since 1992. There will be 149 women serving, 80 veterans, 27 doctors and 180 lawyers. The House of Representatives will be in session for 30 weeks in 2023 and, for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic, members will not be allowed to vote by proxy.
Republicans control the U.S. House but only by a narrow four-vote margin. The newly elected Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) will have a similar challenge to what former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) faced, keeping the extreme end of his political party in line. In McCarthy’s case, the Freedom Caucus.
House Democratic leadership will face its own hurdles as new representation leads the party. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) is the first African American to become a party’s leader in the history of Congress. Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) earned the role of Democratic whip, replacing Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), and Rep Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) assumes Jeffries’ former position as chair of the House Democratic Caucus.
The Senate will maintain Democratic control by a margin of one, leaving Democrats in a stronger position than 2021-22. As majority party, Democrats will have increased committee representation.
During the 117th Congress, the committees were evenly divided because of the 1:1 ratio of Republican and Democrat senators. However, Democrats controlled the Senate because of Vice President Harris’ tie-breaker vote and were able to unilaterally confirm President Biden’s judicial and executive branch nominees. The Senate leadership in both parties remains mostly the same as the last Congress. However, Committee leadership for Republicans will change due to retirements.
Political Messaging or Policy?
The 118th Congress will not be defined by President Biden’s political wish-list or the agenda of House Republicans but by the ability of the Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to stay true to his political strategy: policy-first. This approach worked well for midterms, but it is important to keep in mind that Senate Democrats are defending 12 toss-up seats in the 2024 Presidential election.
President Biden will need Congress’ support to lift the debt limit and to fund the federal government. Look for the president to follow the playbook from Presidents Trump and Obama by increasing his executive authority and regulatory reach.
Republicans won’t make any big changes to spending, such as permanent tax cuts or rolling back the inflation reduction action. Instead, House Republicans will seek to act on their “Commitment to America” legislative agenda released last September. Expect an increase in oversight on the Biden family, agency actions and multi-jurisdictional China policy issues such as Covid-19, reliance on China and IP topics. Republicans will seek to strengthen border security, expand parental rights and increase domestic energy production.
Concrete Congressional Plans
Expect the climate agenda to continue to gain traction in the upcoming Congress. Republicans won’t be able to change what already is law, but they can investigate and slow down implementation. One potential area of agreement will be energy infrastructure, such as pipelines and electrical transmission. Traditional infrastructure, such as implementation of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), will continue to be pivotal for the precast concrete industry. For example, $350 billion of spending is slated for the U.S. Department of Transportation and at least $5 billion toward climate and equity goals in the Inflation Reduction Act. Republicans are frustrated with a lack of movement on permitting changes and guidance documents rather than implementation.
As the economy goes, so goes the workforce and focus on high-profile immigration issues. This Congress has an opportunity to help small business find and retain employees, provide opportunities to encourage workforce visas and workforce development.
Rachel Derby is a principal owner of Innovative Advocacy, a lobbying group that works alongside the National Precast Concrete Association to promote our members’ interests in Washington, D.C.