Welcome Back: the 112th Congress Begins Today

January 5, 2011

The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives kick off the 112th Congress today. Both sessions will begin at noon today with the formal transfer of leadership in the House from Democrats to Republicans followed by the swearing-in ceremonies and myriad parties and receptions to welcome new and returning members of Congress.

In the House at noon, outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) formally hands-over the gavel to incoming Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). Following formal elections for their newly-held positions (Pelosi will serve as Minority Leader), and addresses to the chamber by both, Boehner will conduct the official swearing for the 87 new Republicans and nine new Democrats along with all returning House members at once. On the Senate side, Vice President Joe Biden will conduct the swearing in of the 13 new Senators.

Amid the welcome receptions and swearing ins—both actual and re-created—the Hill is buzzing with controversy over Boehner’s proposed rules package which makes some significant changes to current House rules, as well as a proposed changed to the Senate’s filibuster rules.

The House Republicans’ rules proposal will set new parameters on how legislation will proceed to a floor vote and how amendments can be offered. The proposal also will change the current pay-go rules to exempt tax cuts and repeal of the health care law, and give the Budget Committee chair, Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) enhanced authority to set limits on spending levels. Following passage of the new rules, the House is scheduled to tackle their plans to repeal the health care law next week—in spite of the fact that repeal language is likely dead-on-arrival in the Senate.

On the other side of the Capitol, the Senate is only in session today and will then be on recess until Jan. 24, setting the stage for the typically fast-moving House and slow-moving Senate. It is likely that the only piece of legislative business the Senate will entertain is a proposal from Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) to reform certain Senate rules.

The proposal would, among other items; eliminate the ability to filibuster a motion to proceed to a bill or nomination; require secret holds be made public; and limit the majority leader’s ability to block amendments by guaranteeing minority amendments to all bills. Although the legislation is likely to be introduced, it is unclear whether or not Democrats have the votes necessary to pass the rule change.

Although not all committee assignments have been made official, below are the leaders of some of the key committees with small-business issue jurisdiction:

House Committee on Small Business: Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), will assume the chairmanship while Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.), will take over as ranking member.

Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship: Chair Mary Landrieu will retain her gavel, and Ranking Member Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) also will return.

Finance Committee: Max Baucus (D-Mont.) will remain chairman of the Finance Committee and the new ranking member will be Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). Former Ranking Member Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) will not be returning due to Republican term limits terms for chairs and ranking members.

Ways and Means Committee: Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) will assume the chairmanship and Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.) will serve as ranking member.

Energy and Commerce Committee: Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) will serve as the chair and Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) will move to ranking member.

Education and Labor Committee: Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) will take over the chairmanship, and Rep. George Miller (D-Calif) will serve as ranking member.

Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee: Chair Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Ranking Member Michael Enzi (R-Wyo.) will both return to their previous leadership positions.

As the 112th Congress sets forth on conducting the business of the American people, NSBA welcomes the new lawmakers and looks forward to working with all Members of the 112th Congress on the many key issues facing America’s small-business community.