January 5, 2011

112th Congress Convenes Today

By Christy Gullion

The 112th Congress convenes today, reinstating an era of divided government with Republicans in control of the House and Democrats in control of the Senate and White House.  Republicans will have a 242-193 majority in the House, while Senate Democrats and their two independent allies will hold a majority of 53 seats, compared with 47 for Republicans.  Both the House and Senate will open with swearing in their new members and determining procedural rules for the year. The Senate will adjourn at the end of the week for a two-week recess to mark the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, while the House is expected to be in session for a portion of next week when they plan to take a mostly symbolic vote to repeal last year’s health reform law.

House Republican leadership will use the three weeks before President Obama’s State of the Union address to vote to repeal the health care overhaul law and cut spending. Following the vote next week to repeal the health care law, the House Republicans will act quickly to fulfill their pledge to cut spending to 2008 levels as they attempt to complete the FY11 appropriations process before the current continuing resolution expires on March 4th.

Also this week, the House will take the first of what will become a weekly ritual in the chamber under the new majority: voting on a bill to cut federal spending. This week’s vote will be on a measure to cut the House’s own funding by 5 percent, which Republicans estimate will save more than $35 million in the first year. Of the $35 million in savings, $26 million would come from reducing members’ office budgets, $8 million would come from House committees, and $1 million would come from Republican and Democratic leadership offices. Future weekly spending cut proposals will be selected through the Republicans’ “YouCut” Initiative, which Republicans initiated last year and allows the public to vote online on which federal spending program they would like to see cut. That initiative will continue as is has in the past, with the proposed spending cut that received the most votes each week being brought directly to the House floor for consideration.

The weekly YouCut votes will be on a separate track from rescission bills reported by the Appropriations Committee and other efforts to roll back domestic discretionary spending to 2008 levels. Those efforts are expected to pick up speed in February after Republicans set a new discretionary spending cap for FY11, and as the March 4th expiration of the current CR funding that the entire government approaches. The Senate Democrats will likely not agree to the House imposed spending levels so the outlook for the FY11 appropriations process is uncertain. There is wide speculation that absent an agreement between the two bodies, a year-long CR will be enacted to fund federal government at (or close to) FY10 levels.

Today is just the beginning of a long two-year session of Congress. I look forward to bringing you information and insights on this blog and through our periodic Federal Updates along the way!

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