The Speaker Situation and its Ramifications



Madison Tanner, Contributor

Just after midnight last Friday, California Republican Kevin McCarthy was officially elected Speaker of the House, ending the deadlock in the lower house of Congress after a historical fifteen rounds of voting. After a few days of seemingly unending negotiations with a small group of far-right conservatives, House Republicans were able to sway the last four holdout representatives to vote “present,” lowering the number of votes required to win the speakership and securing the position for McCarthy.

One of the notable holdout votes included the far-right conspiracy theorist Representative Lauren Boebert of Colorado, former owner of the restaurant Shooters Grill in, fittingly, Rifle, Colorado, where wait staff could open carry firearms. Shooters Grill is now, unsurprisingly, closed for business. Joining her as a holdout vote was Florida Representative Matt Gaetz, who, for some reason, voted for former president Donald J. Trump as Speaker

All two-hundred and twelve Democratic representatives remained united behind Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York for the fifteen rounds. 

To secure the speakership, McCarthy and his base made several concessions to the conservative holdouts, including ones that would weaken the power of the House Speaker. The concessions include:

  • The ability for any member of the house to call for a motion to vacate the speaker’s chair. This would make it significantly easier to trigger a no-confidence vote in the speaker. More moderate Republicans worry that this will limit McCarthy’s effectiveness as Speaker. 
  • A promise from a McCarthy-aligned political action committee to not play in open Republican primaries in “safe seats.”
  • The House will now hold votes on major conservative issues, including bills on border security, congressional term limits, and a balanced budget amendment. 
  • Efforts to raise the debt ceiling in the future must be coupled with spending cuts. This could result in problems later on because Democrats would likely staunchly oppose spending cuts when it is time to raise the debt ceiling to avoid a default.
  • In the past, instead of passing many separate government funding bills, Congress would pass one mega-bill called an “omnibus” at the end of the year that rolled everything together. Going forward, appropriations will be passed individually. Conservatives in Congress have been pushing for this because they believe omnibuses evade oversight and make it easier to sneak in extraneous spending. 
  • The Freedom Caucus, a conglomeration of some of the most conservative House members, will have more representation on committees. This includes the House Rules Committee, which controls legislation reported by other committees and determines things such as the debate time (if any) allocated to the legislation and the number and types of amendments allowed (if any) on the House floor. More conservative members on the House Rules Committee would mean progressive and Democrat-backed legislation could be obstructed. 
  • A cap on discretionary spending at 2022 levels, meaning less funding for defense and domestic programs. 
  • Seventy-two hours to review bills before they come to the floor.
  • Giving members the ability to offer more amendments on the House floor
  • The creation of an investigative committee to probe the “weaponization” of the federal government
  • Restoration of the Holman rule, which can be used to reduce government officials’ salaries

While a few of the concessions do seem as if they will have a significant impact on the House, such as committee representation, most will not have an immediately felt effect, if one at all. 

In the first week of a Republican-controlled House, a bill that would strip funding from the IRS was passed by Republicans, aiming to undercut the $80 billion the agency was given in last year’s Inflation Reduction Act. The bill does not have the votes it needs to pass in the Senate, but it is likely the first of many bills to leave the House aiming to undo Democratic legislation from the last few years. The House is also poised to vote on a bill that would abolish the IRS and income tax, replacing it with a consumption tax. There is an approximately zero percent chance this bill will become law. 

Is there cause for concern? Somewhat, but not really. A conservative-controlled House means that progressive legislation will, for the most part, not make it to the Senate for a vote or it will never even make it to a House vote. However, Democrats still control the Senate, if by a narrow margin, meaning that conservative legislation will likely not pass in the upper house of Congress. The ultimate result is that we are facing a partisan deadlock where neither party accomplishes much of anything until the next election cycle in 2024, which could see a Democrat-controlled Congress.

Republicans did not win as strong a majority in the House as they were poised to, considering historical precedent and the current political climate. Since WWII, the first midterm of a presidency would see the president’s party lose an average of two dozen or more seats. Republicans only flipped nine. This is likely in part due to polarization over abortion rights and a historic turnout among young voters, who voted overwhelmingly Democrat. The slim margin of control means that Democrats could potentially regain control of the House in the next election.

The most concerning takeaway is the fact that a group of less than two dozen had the power to completely incapacitate a third of our government until their demands were met. It is also revealing of the staunch divide between the two parties that moderate Republicans were more willing to negotiate with far-right conspiracy theorists than some of the more centrist-aligned Democrats. 

Ultimately, expect two years of a partisan legislative stalemate until the next election cycle and a lot of bills that’ll die on the Senate floor.