The 114th Congress Begins this Week

January 7, 2015

pic-capitol-roadThis week, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives kicked off the 114th Congress with the transfer of leadership in the Senate from Democrats to Republicans.  On Tuesday Jan. 6, Members of Congress took their oaths of office on their respective chamber floors, followed by ceremonies and receptions to welcome new and returning members. Vice President Joe Biden ceremonially swore in newly elected senators, while Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) did the same for House members.

The Senate also elected by resolution a new president pro tempore, the longest-serving senator of the majority party who presides over the chamber in the absence of the vice president. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who has served since 1977, assumed the position. Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) was also formally reelected as Speaker for the new Congress.

On Tuesday afternoon, House Republicans quickly laid out their agenda in the 114th Congress by passing a rules package (H.Res. 5) on a 234-172 vote. The measure, crafted by GOP leadership, includes a number of provisions including a rule blocking any legislation that would shift funds from Social Security’s Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund, in an effort to prevent a shortfall in the Social Security’s Disability Insurance program, unless it’s accompanied by benefit cuts or tax increases that improve the solvency of the combined trust funds‎. The rules package also would: reduce the frequency of committee activity reports from two times per Congress to one time per Congress; allow House Republicans to continue their lawsuit against the President; and continue the Select Committee on Benghazi.  The measure gives deposition authority to staff of the Committees on Energy and Commerce, Financial Services, Science, Space, and Technology, and Ways and Means, and restricts the ability of the Delegates and Resident Commissioner to cast votes, or preside, in the Committee of the Whole House.

The package also eliminates provisions contained in the Affordable Care Act that limit the ability of the House to determine the method of consideration for a recommendation from the Independent Payment Advisory Board, which recommends policies to Congress to provide better care at lower costs and sustain Medicare over the long-term, or to repeal the provision in its entirety. The provision also directs the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation to include an assessment of macroeconomic effects, or so-called “dynamic scoring” into the official cost estimates used for enforcing the budget resolution and other rules of the House.

Following passage of the new rules, the House is scheduled to tackle other key agenda items, such as bringing up bills to approve the Keystone pipeline and establishing that a full-time workweek constitutes 40 hours instead of 30 under the healthcare law, as a health law mandate takes effect on Thursday which requires many employers to offer health insurance to their workers.

Over the next few months Republicans will soon turn their focus toward negotiations over the fiscal 2016 budget. First, appropriators will need to address homeland security spending, which is set to expire in February under the recently enacted spending package, keeping in mind that the current debt limit suspension expires in March and the deadline for enacting a budget resolution is in April.