2023 started with controversies spanning from the 15 voting rounds over three days it took for Republicans to elect Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to the classified documents being discovered in the private residences of former President Trump and Vice President Pence and current President Biden. It also began with the halls of Congress reopening to the public in a way we have not seen since January 2020. The G2G team was on the hill January 3rd for swearing-in celebrations and found the halls packed once again. Hybrid meetings are continuing with some online and some in person, but committee hearings are back in person as are receptions and other events on the Hill. At the White House, President Biden is planning for his February 7 State of the Union address to Congress.
The dominating issues in Congress as we start the year are the debt limit extension as an opportunity to require spending cuts (expected to reach this point this summer), oversight investigations of everything from IRS to COVID to the Inflation Reduction Act to President Biden, and the looming 2024 elections. With a razor thin majority in the House and a minority position in the Senate, the Republicans are in a tough position to succeed in passing legislation that becomes law but are well-positioned to use their power at the podium to address priorities. In the end Speaker McCarthy and President Biden will need to find a way to work together to move legislation this year.
BUDGET & APPROPRIATIONS
With Republicans taking control of the House, the first few weeks of January have focused on committee assignments and chairmanships. One challenge has been huge staff changes with about 80 new staffers moving into positions on the powerful committee. There are changes in the Senate as well with Senator Patty Murry (D-WA) becoming Chair but with the majority staying in control, the shifting has less impact in changing the overall process than the House.
HOUSE APPROPRIATIONS SUBCOMMITTEE CHAIRS:
- Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration – Rep. Andy Harris (MD)
- Commerce, Justice, Science – Rep. Hal Rogers (KY)
- Defense – Rep. Ken Calvert (CA)
- Energy and Water Development – Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (TN)
- Financial Services and General Government – Rep. Steve Womack (AR)
- Homeland Security – Rep. Dave Joyce (OH)
- Interior and Environment – Rep. Mike Simpson (ID)
- Labor, Health and Human Services, Education – Rep. Robert Aderholt (AL)
- Legislative Branch – Rep. Mark Amodei (NV)
- Military Construction and Veterans Affairs – Rep. John Carter (TX)
- State Department, Foreign Operations – Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (FL)
- Transportation, Housing and Urban Development – Rep. Tom Cole (OK)
Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-KY) is now the Chair of the Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee, which oversees the Department of Health and Human Services and all health programs. He plans to focus on drug price transparency, fentanyl crisis and drug scheduling, mental health issues and telehealth. The full committee Chair is Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), who was Ranking Member next to now Ranking Frank Pallone for the past several years. The Health Subcommittee Ranking Member is former Chair Anna Eshoo (D-CA).
Rep. Jason Smith (R-MO) took the helm of the Ways and Means Committee and welcomed 11 new members. His priorities are Internal Revenue Service (IRS) oversight, debt crisis, and investigation of the Inflation Reduction Act and abuse of COVID dollars. He has already established an online form to assist IRS personnel who wish to submit information confidentially to the Committee regarding any inappropriate behavior or mishandling of taxpayer information at the agency. For the Health Subcommittee, which oversees Medicare, the new Chair is Vernon Buchanan (R-FL), who is also passionate about the debt limit and wants to cut spending. Meanwhile the overall Ranking Member is former Chair Richard Neal (D-MA) and Health Subcommittee Chair is Lloyd Doggett (D-TX).
Despite several Members of Congress pressuring the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid to issue a final Transitional Coverage of Emerging Technologies rule to close the gap between FDA clearance and CMS coverage of new health innovations, CMS still has not released its decision. Congress is expected again to push CMS to provide faster coverage for new medical devices this year, thanks to the bipartisan support on this issue. Also, the never enacted Verifying Accurate Leading-edge IVCT Development (VALID) Act, which would provide FDA with greater authority to regulate diagnostic tests that are currently regulated by CMS under the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA), remains up in the air but hearings and negotiations are expected to continue in the 118th Congress.
The new House Armed Services Committee Chair is Mike Rogers (R-AL) and the Ranking Member is former Chair Adam Smith (D-WA). With the power of the majority, Republicans were able to add 11 new members and appoint 7 new chairs.
HASC SUBCOMMITTEE CHAIRS
- Rob Wittman (R-VA) – Vice-Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and Chairman of the Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces
- Doug Lamborn (R-CO) – Chairman of the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces
- Trent Kelly (R-MS) – Chairman of the Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces
- Mike Gallagher (R-WI) – Chairman of the Subcommittee on Cyber, Innovative Technologies, and Information Systems
- Jim Banks (R-IN) – Chairman of the Subcommittee on Military Personnel
- Jack Bergman (R-MI) – Chairman of the Subcommittee on Intelligence and Special Operations
- Michael Waltz (R-FL) – Chairman of the Subcommittee on Readiness
Meanwhile, on the House Appropriations Committee, there were no surprises in the Defense leadership. The new Appropriations Chair is former Defense Subcommittee Chair from the 115th Congress, Kay Granger (R-TX), and the new Defense Appropriations Chair is longtime former Ranking Member Ken Calvert (R-CA). Both are champions for national security with extensive backgrounds in working with the Pentagon. G2G just met with both offices this week and found them eager to get the FY24 appropriations process underway.
DOD CONFIRMATIONS STALLED
After being stalled at the end of the 117th Congress, the Senate Democrats are pushing hard to move confirmations of President Joe Biden's picks for top Pentagon posts early in the 118th Congress. However, both sides of the aisle are blocking this movement for various reasons. Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) is threatening to place procedural holds on nominees over the decision to base U.S. Space Command in Alabama rather than his home state. Meanwhile, Dan Sullivan (R-AK) renewed his objections from last year on two nominees over the Biden administration's holdup of a mining access project in his state. While they cannot unilaterally block the confirmations on their own, they can cause delays to the chagrin of Senate Armed Services Chair Jack Reed (D-RI), who is determined to get these confirmations done early this year.