Yesterday marked the first day of the 113th Congress. For the 84 freshmen members, including Suzan DelBene (D-1st), Derek Kilmer (D-6th), and Denny Heck (D-10th), the real work starts (even though DelBene is a 6-week veteran as she filled the remaining term in Jay Inslee’s old seat). They join Congress at a time when the country faces steep fiscal challenges. Predictable partisan divisions over spending are taking shape in the new House, with Democrats aiming to rework federal borrowing authority guidelines and preserve entitlements, while Republicans are backing more detailed accounting for mandatory spending programs they aim to cut.
The federal government technically exceeded its borrowing capacity on December 31st, but the Treasury Department is taking what it called “extraordinary measures” to maintain debt payments and effectively extend its limit through the end of February. Congressional Republicans are expected to demand additional spending cuts or changes to entitlement programs in exchange for their support to raise the debt ceiling. Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Geithner is expected to leave his post as early as this month, adding new complications to sensitive fiscal questions that must be answered in the coming weeks. Three battles will come in sequence in the next three months: a pending debt limit increase, a two-month delay in automatic spending cuts under Budget Control Act (PL 112-25), and the March 27th expiration of funding for government programs under the current continuing resolution (CR).
The House is in session briefly today. Our newest delegation members – DelBene, Kilmer, and Heck – will take their first votes on legislation to increase flood insurance financing related to Hurricane Sandy. After this vote, the House will recess for a week, returning to the Capitol on January 14th. The Senate is also in session today and hope to pass the Sandy bill by unanimous consent if it clears the House this morning. In addition to the Sandy vote, both chambers will meet in the House for a Joint Session of Congress to count the electoral ballots for president and vice president of the United States.