Welcome to 2023! We hope your year is off to a more auspicious start than the new Congress’s. Here’s what you should know.
Republicans in Disarray: McCarthy Fails to Win Speaker’s Gavel
The 118th Congress got off to a wild start today as Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy failed to get the votes he needed in three rounds of balloting to pick the new speaker of the House. Nineteen hard-right Republicans opposed McCarthy on the first and second ballots, marking the first time in a century that the majority party’s nominee has suffered such a defeat.
The opposition grew to 20 on the third ballot, as McCarthy’s foes backed Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio even after Jordan nominated and expressed his support for McCarthy. Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York actually received more votes than the GOP leader on all three ballots, though Jeffries also fell short of a majority.
The House then adjourned until noon tomorrow.
Tuesday’s votes followed what was a very tense, closed-door meeting of the House Republican conference that reportedly involved some shouting and cursing as the 57-year-old McCarthy argued he had earned the speaker’s gavel, which he has long coveted. “I’ve covered a number of these closed-door meetings. This is about as contentious as it gets,” CNN’s Manu Raju said.
Who’s blocking McCarthy’s bid: “The revolt against Mr. McCarthy,” Catie Edmondson of The New York Times reports, “has been led by a small coterie of ultraconservative lawmakers who have been the most outspoken about their opposition to him. It also includes a larger but quieter group of lawmakers who have long agitated for changes in the way the House operates, and a set of newcomers who have remained largely silent but are weighing their options.”
Most of the Republican rebels are members of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus, a group that forced out former Speaker John Boehner in 2015 and scuttled McCarthy’s bid to become speaker then as well.
What the GOP fight is about: A number of McCarthy’s opponents have railed against the “status quo” in Congress and have pointed to last month’s speedy passage of a $1.7 trillion omnibus spending bill as a prime example of legislative malpractice. Many of McCarthy’s anti-establishment opponents reportedly demanded changes that would allow an open amendment process for legislation — and give them more power or specific committee assignments. Yet the numerous concessions they won from McCarthy were not enough to get them to yes. In some cases, the opposition was reportedly rooted in personal differences.
Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) said in a statement that the hardliners had sought conservative representation on committees and “firm commitments” for votes on a balanced budget, a Texas border plan, congressional term limits and legislation called the Fair Tax Act, which would eliminate funding for the Internal Revenue Service after fiscal year 2025 and replace the federal income tax with a national sales tax.
Other Republicans slammed McCarthy’s foes. “There’s a group of people who have deeply miscalculated,” Rep. Dan Crenshaw of Texas said per NBC News. “They’ve calculated that people will see them as these noble freedom fighters fighting for a cause. They can’t seem to say what the cause is. That makes them look pretty f---ing stupid. And they are pretty f---ing stupid.”
How will this end? It’s hard to say at this point. McCarthy told reporters earlier in the day that he holds the record for longest floor speech and has no problem going for the record for most floor votes to win the speakership. But if McCarthy is prepared to continue this game of chicken, it’s also hard to see how he can get a majority of votes at this point. Republican support for his bid may erode as it becomes clear he can’t get the necessary votes.
It's not clear who else could emerge as a viable compromise candidate. Jordan reportedly said there’s no chance he’ll become speaker. Roll Call reports that, if the stalemate drags on for days, “members of the Republican Main Street Caucus, the Republican Governance Group and the Problem Solvers Caucus have a backup plan. They would team up with Democrats to nominate retiring Michigan GOP Rep. Fred Upton for speaker. The position does not need to be held by a lawmaker, but no Congress has ever elected a speaker who wasn’t also serving as a member.”
The bottom line: We all knew that a divided Congress and a Republican-led House would likely lead to gridlock — or chaos — on Capitol Hill and familiar headaches for GOP leaders trying to contend with intraparty divisions and an ever more assertive right flank. Today delivered a taste of what’s ahead. The GOP looks dysfunctional, plain and simple, and the business of Congress isn’t getting done. New members of Congress can’t even be sworn in until a speaker is elected because their oath of office is supposed to be administered by the speaker. And this can go on for days.
Quote of the Day
“I don’t understand is how the U.S. government is going to function. President Barack Obama faced an extremist, radicalized G.O.P. House, but even the Tea Partiers had concrete policy demands that could, to some extent, be appeased. How do you deal with people who believe, more or less, that the 2020 election was stolen by a vast conspiracy of pedophiles?
I don’t know the answer, but prospects don’t look good.”
— Economist Paul Krugman, writing in The New York Times Tuesday about the contentious battle among Republicans over the next speaker of the House.
Charts of the Day: Will There Be a Recession in 2023?
Economists are starting the new year facing the same big question they’ve been batting around for months: Are we headed for a recession?
Most analysts expect to see some kind of dip for the economy in 2023 as a result of the Federal Reserve’s war on inflation, Bloomberg reports, but there are significant outliers, including researchers at Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase. Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, thinks the economy will hit a rough patch but avoid a recession, thanks in part to the savings Americans have built up since the beginning of the pandemic.
“Shoppers are the firewall between an economy in recession and an economy that skirts a downturn,” Zandi said in a report Tuesday. “While the firewall is sure to come under pressure, particularly as financially hard-pressed low-income households struggle, it should continue to hold.” Zandi provides this chart showing that households in all income groups still have some pandemic-era savings remaining.
By contrast, analysts at BlackRock say that if the Fed is serious about bringing inflation down close to its target of 2%, the economy will necessarily experience a recession. The chart below shows just how hard the Fed would have to push to get inflation under control in an economy that is now seriously constrained by production bottlenecks and an aging workforce.
“Signs of a slowdown are emerging,” the analyst said, and a “recession is foretold.” At the same time, the BlackRock team thinks the Fed will ease up as it becomes clear just how much damage its tightening campaign is doing, with the central bank coming to accept inflation levels above its target rate.
- McCarthy Defeated Three Times in Bid for Speaker Before House Recesses for the Day – NBC News
- The Pelosi Era Comes to a Close – New York Times
- ‘Good Riddance’: In First Act in Power, Republicans Remove Metal Detectors From the House Chamber – Roll Call
- Biden Caps Two Years of Action on the Economy, With New Challenges Ahead – New York Times
- Big Questions on Student Loan Forgiveness Loom in 2023 – CNN
- Inflation Reset Lets Wealthy Americans Give Heirs Even More Tax-Free – Bloomberg
- ‘Not Business as Usual’: Health Lobbyists Brace for Bernie Sanders – Politico
- U.S. Pours Money Into Chips, but Even Soaring Spending Has Limits – New York Times
- What’s Next for the Economy? 10 Charts That Show Where Things Stand. – Washington Post
- Pelosi Announces Maximum Salary for House Staff Being Raised to $212,000 – The Hill
- Antibody Drugs Could Target Infectious Diseases — if Costs Come Down – Washington Post
Views and Analysis
- Get Ready for the Most Chaotic, Do-Nothingest Congress in Modern History – Michael Tomasky, New Republic
- What the New Congress Could Do — if Lawmakers Decide to Do Their Jobs – Washington Post Editorial Board
- The Biggest Health Stories to Watch in 2023 – Rachel Roubein, Washington Post
- We’re Going to Miss Greed and Cynicism – Paul Krugman, New York Times
- What Could Go Wrong for the Federal Reserve in 2023 – Bill Dudley, Bloomberg
- Who Will Talk Jay Powell Off the Ledge? – Robert Kuttner, American Prospect
- Trump’s Taxes Are Exhibit A in the Case for Why the IRS Needs a Big Upgrade – Steven M. Rosenthal, Washington Post
- When Supply, Not Demand, Is the Problem – Eric Levitz, New York
- How the Monkeypox Outbreak Revealed the Path for Vanquishing Viruses – Fennit Nirappil, Washington Post
- Bread for the City Hoped $5,500 Would Improve Peoples’ Lives. It Did. – John Kelly, Washington Post