Cleaning House

By Ande Jacobson

2023 completed its first week. We passed the second anniversary of an insurrection ending the U.S. tradition of the peaceful transition of power for the first time in our history, and we watched the U.S. House of Representatives put on a chaotic spectacle taking just over four days and 15 votes before finally electing Rep. Kevin McCarthy Speaker of the House. To get there, McCarthy made several concessions to the extremist faction that has taken over his party, a faction that supported the insurrection and the insurrectionists. Those concessions have been covered extensively in the media and could have dire consequences for the country as the year progresses if they come to pass.

On the morning of January 7th, President Biden issued a statement of both congratulations to the new speaker and a hope that he will lead the House to work for the people of this nation rather than against them citing the importance of not slashing but maintaining programs like Social Security and Medicare as well as the need to continue the progress that the country has made in the previous two years.

As an American citizen, I’m concerned about what we’ve seen over the last week. There have only been four previous speaker selections that took more ballots than the 15 it took to elect Speaker McCarthy, the last time was in 1859 with 44. In 1923, it took nine ballots, and the century since then, the speaker has been elected on the first ballot, until this time. As historians have made clear, to have this much chaos over selecting a speaker is not normal. We’ve watched a small faction of extremists demand to control the most important and far-reaching committees in the House promising to wreak havoc on normal governmental processes. This same faction has demanded that in return for their support, the new speaker must refuse to raise the debt ceiling unless programs like Social Security and Medicare are severely reduced or eliminated which would push millions of Americans into poverty.

According to Mother Jones, in exchange for their votes, McCarthy gave the Freedom Caucus the following guarantees:

  • Any member can call for a motion to vacate the speaker’s chair
  • A McCarthy-aligned super-PAC (the Congressional Leadership Fund) agreed to not spend in open Republican primaries in safe seats
  • The House will hold votes on key conservative bills, including a balanced budget amendment, congressional term limits, and border security (and though not mentioned in the article, severely restricting abortion)
  • Efforts to raise the nation’s debt ceiling must be paired with spending cuts
  • Move 12 appropriations bills individually, instead of passing separate bills to fund government operations
  • More Freedom Caucus representation on committees, including the influential House Rules Committee
  • Cap discretionary spending at fiscal year 2022 levels, which would amount to lower levels for defense and domestic programs
  • 72 hours to review bills before they come to floor
  • Give members the ability to offer more amendments on the House floor
  • Create an investigative committee to probe the “weaponization” of the federal government
  • Restore the Holman rule, which can be used to reduce the salary of government officials

The spending cuts before raising the debt ceiling explicitly call out Social Security and Medicare which makes no sense since those programs are self-funded through specific payroll taxes, and people have earned those benefits by paying into them. Those who haven’t paid into them do not receive the benefits, or in the case of Medicare, have to pay the premium themselves.

From all accounts, what we witnessed over the past week is only the beginning of the House cleaning that the GOP, led by the Freedom Caucus’s most reactionary goals, will attempt. It’s dysfunctional. It’s diametrically opposed to what the majority of Americans want. It’s also counter to the Constitution which lays out co-equal branches of government. The investigative committee proposal seeks to create a charter to interfere with the DOJ’s ongoing work to uphold the rule of law. Rule of law is fundamental to our democracy.

After the House finally had a speaker, the minority leader, Hakeem Jeffries, gave a powerful speech full of hope and enthusiasm – the last six minutes are not to be missed. Speaker McCarthy followed with what can only be called a lackluster presentation.

Will America survive? Probably. Will it be a tumultuous two years? Absolutely. Will democracy survive? Time will tell.


References:

Statement from President Biden on the Election of Kevin McCarthy as Speaker of the House
Speaker Elections Decided by Multiple Ballots
Here are the Concessions Kevin McCarthy Had to Make to Become House Speaker
What Kevin McCarthy’s concessions to right-wingers would mean for a functioning Congress
2022 is almost over
https://january6th.house.gov/report-executive-summary
Final Report Executive Summary PDF
Letters from an American
Teri Kanefield’s Blog
Biden-Harris Accomplishments
GOP’s Shadow report
Dobbs SCOTUS Opinion
SCOTUS and Opus Dei
Opus Dei Influence on SCOTUS
CHIPS Act
Letters From an American – January 6, 2021


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