With a new majority in the House of Representatives, over 80 new members in the House and Senate, many new committee leaders, and a looming 2024 presidential election, there will be no shortage of areas to keep an eye on when the new Congress is gaveled into session on January 3rd, 2023. That being said, here are 5 things to watch that will help define the process, politics, and policy for the 118th Congress:
The Vote for Speaker of the House: After Members of Congress are officially sworn-in by the “Dean of the House,” one of their first orders of business will be the vote to elect the 55th Speaker of the House – the one partisan leadership position that is elected by the full membership of the House of Representatives. It is not unusual for members of either party to lodge a protest vote (a vote for someone not really in contention), but those mean less when there are big majorities that can afford to lose a handful of votes. This year, the narrow Republican majority in the House cannot afford many lost votes. While Republicans will elect a Republican speaker, the process may be a bit more complex this year as both numbers and internal politics are understandably creating some angst among leaders.
The House Rules Package for the 118th Congress: This is the most important document nobody really pays attention to (other than procedural experts and true insiders). At the start of the new Congress, the House will have to vote to pass the Rules Package, which will be entirely drafted by the new majority and will likely pass along partisan lines. The package effectively outlines changes to procedure, structure, and process for the next two years. This will include cosmetic changes (i.e., adjustments to the name of a committee), procedural changes (i.e., adjustments to whether delegates can vote on the House floor or whether proxy voting on the House floor will be repealed), structural changes (i.e., adjustments to committee jurisdiction or the elimination or creation of new committees), and process changes (i.e., unwinding changes that the previous majority made to specific House procedures, such as the Motion to Recommit). Watching these will help outline where the new majority priorities are, what they will be focused on to some extent, and how they will govern the House for the next two years.
The Senate Appropriations Committee: So much of what gets done (albeit well beyond traditional deadlines) happens through the appropriations committees – usually through an end-of-year omnibus funding package that seems to carry many other unrelated priorities that could not pass on their own. In the Senate, this powerful committee will have new leadership on both sides of the aisle – Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) as Chair and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) as Ranking Member. Both have been known to work across the political aisle from time to time, and both have served as leaders of authorizing committees. They replace leaders that have served on the Appropriations Committee for decades. Watching how this committee operates with new leadership could define the future of funding during this upcoming Congress and the many non-funding bills that enjoy a free ride on funding packages.
The Power of Party Factions: The most interesting thing to watch may be the factions within each party and the manner in which they leverage their power in a deeply divided Congress with narrow majorities. Progressives, conservatives, moderates, the Senate’s “Gang of 8,” and even the new members on both sides of the aisle, will all be able to leverage their votes in a way that was impossible with larger majorities. These groups (and others) have great power to adjust the course of virtually every vote. Regardless of how often they use their leverage, we know they will use it and this will adjust the course of negotiations and vote calculations significantly.
The 2024 Candidates for President: Not long after the 118th Congress begins, candidates looking to run for President in 2024 will be traveling the country and announcing their candidacy (including some that will be serving in the 118th Congress). Obviously, the “who” is important here, but so is the “when.” As more candidates announce, the agenda in the House and Senate, the messaging of the parties, and even the potential for bipartisan work will be impacted. At some point (likely in 2024), the key candidates will be driving much of what happens on the House and Senate floors (at least on major issues), and the dynamic will change as the election approaches. While this may not fully take shape immediately, its impact will be apparent very quickly.