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It took a historic 15 votes for California Congressman Kevin McCarthy to reach his lifetime goal to become House Speaker. Now comes the hard part of governing with a slim, contentious majority.

GOP Targets Wasteful Spending, Border, IRS Agents and Investigations

After 15 tries, House Republicans elected a Speaker. Now what? Technically, House rules and committee assignments. Then early action on GOP priorities such as rolling back Internal Revenue Service staff increases, addressing a surge of migrants at the Southern border, clamping down on spending and holding investigative hearings on the Biden administration.

There are 222 Republicans and 212 Democrats in the House, with one vacancy. As newly installed Speaker Kevin McCarthy discovered, that thin margin of control empowers factions. The hard-right Freedom Caucus held up McCarthy’s eventual election for a week. House GOP moderates might cause another delay by objecting to House rules McCarthy negotiated to win over Freedom Caucus members.

When passed, many of the political objectives of House Republicans will be dead on arrival in the Democratically controlled Senate. The bigger question ricocheting in the nation’s capital is how a split Congress will address raising the debt limit early this year and negotiating spending bills before Fiscal Year 2024 begins this fall.

The most pressing substantive issue is immigration policy. Under court orders, President Biden was prepared to remove Title 42, the Trump policy that allowed immigrants seeking asylum in the United States to be turned away. At the initiative of many border states, courts have blocked the removal of Title 42.

Before heading to El Paso for his first border visit as President, Biden announced a new policy that would rebuff asylum seekers from Haiti, Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua at the southern border, while creating a new legal pathway if they applied in their home countries. As expected, his plan was lustily denounced by pro- and anti-immigrant groups. Biden also resent the immigration reform bill he submitted to Congress on his first day in office, noting that immigration isn’t a new problem and more funding is needed to manage it effectively.

Biden’s stopover at the border is a prelude to his meeting with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the so-called “three amigos” who are expected to discuss immigration, trade, illicit drug trafficking and disintegrating economic conditions in large chunks of Latin America.

In his first speech as Speaker, McCarthy stressed his top priority is the country, not his political party. He promised to apply checks and balances on presidential policies. “There is nothing more important,” McCarthy said, “than making it possible for American families to live and enjoy the lives they deserve.”

He vowed to “stop wasteful Washington spending to lower the price of groceries, gas, cars, and housing and stop the rising national debt”. “We pledge to cut the regulatory burden, lower energy costs for families and create good-paying jobs for workers by unleashing reliable, abundant American-made energy,” McCarthy said. “Our first bill will repeal funding for 87,000 new IRS agents. Because the government should be here to help you, not go after you.”

Conservative Republicans have called for multiple investigations into Hunter Biden’s finances, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine. McCarthy singled out investigations of the Chinese Communist Party.

Republicans also will open an inquiry into what they refer to as weaponization of the Department of Justice and FBI. McCarthy publicly thanked former President Trump for persuading Freedom Caucus members to vote for his speakership, and the DOJ/FBI select committee investigation could be a thank you card.

The House rules package will require 72 hours before floor votes to allow members to read legislation. The provision comes as a response to last-minute omnibus bills containing wide ranging topics, which have supplanted the traditional approach of moving legislation issue by issue. Omnibus bills have emerged as Congress has become more deeply polarized and unable to work out compromises on appropriations and controversial topics.

“The only thing worse than the way we do it would be not doing it and see what happens.”

Deadlock over spending likely
Deadlock seems inevitable as McCarthy put a target on “wasteful spending” that Democrats see as essential spending. McCarthy raised the prospect of a spending freeze. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer fired a warning shot back saying House Republicans are likely to “cause a government shutdown or a default with devastating consequences to our country.”

Retiring Missouri Senator Roy Blunt gave a somber closing speech in which he said, “The only thing worse than the way we do it would be not doing it and see what happens.”

A practical limitation on old-style legislating is that many House and Senate members spend increasing amounts of time fundraising and showing up in their home states. There is little tolerance in the House for hours of debate over a flood of floor amendments, which can have the feel of a filibuster.

There was an early signal House Republicans would not abandon discretionary congressional spending, better known as earmarks.