Happy Groundhog Day! Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, meaning six more weeks of winter, but Staten Island Chuck did not, predicting an early spring for the eighth year in a row. Our prediction: many more weeks of occasionally frosty debt-limit discussions.
The Least Productive Congress Ever?
The 118th Congress is getting off to a remarkably slow start, and some lawmakers and analysts are worried that the pace won’t pick up any time soon.
In January, the Democratic-controlled Senate held just three votes. By comparison, in January 2017, there were 35 votes in the Senate, while in January 2015, there were 46.
“This certainly is an incredibly slow start,” Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-SD) told NBC News. “There’s not a lot going on.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) also noted the unusual pace. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a slower beginning that started a new Congress in the Senate,” he said.
The Republican-controlled House hasn’t been much more productive, getting bogged down in its first days under a new GOP majority in a squabble over who would be the next speaker. That contentious display has some observers worried that the House could be consumed by the pursuit of petty grievances and politically charged investigations rather than productive lawmaking over the next two years.
“I have very low expectations,” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) told NBC. “I would predict — and I hope I’m wrong — this will prove to be one of the least productive congresses in modern history because of the dysfunctionality of an unstable majority.”
On Thursday, the relatively modest schedule in the House included a vote to remove Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) from the Foreign Affairs Committee for past remarks that many found to be anti-Semitic, and for which she had apologized — a vote that had been delayed from earlier in the week because the panel wasn’t ready yet. The vote was successful but did little to assuage fears that the new House majority is more interested in symbolic victories and acts of revenge than in substantial achievements. (“The vote marks the latest reprisal in an escalating partisan tit-for-tat over committee assignments that House members in both parties have called to end,” Axios’s Andrew Solender and Erin Doherty wrote.)
Later in the day, the House passed a resolution “denouncing the horrors of socialism,” which the ghost of Chairman Mao no doubt received with fear and trepidation, though what effect the resolution would have among the living remains unclear.
Then, their hard work done, the House adjourned for the weekend shortly after 3 p.m.
Some House Republicans have defended their work so far. Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-SD) noted that the House has passed several pieces of legislation, including a ban on the sale of oil to China from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve and a bill immediately ending the public health emergency on Covid-19. Little of that effort, however, is expected to be taken up by the Senate or become law.
The House also spent time this week debating the idea of starting each meeting of the House Judiciary Committee with the Pledge of Allegiance, a proposal offered by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), one of the Republicans who repeatedly sabotaged Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s effort to win the leadership of the lower chamber. Gaetz’s amendment sparked nearly an hour of fierce debate over just who is and who isn’t patriotic, a debate marked by considerable partisan vitriol. The amendment then passed on a unanimous vote, with the lawmakers deciding to ignore the fact that members of the House already begin each day with a recitation of the pledge.
The bottom line: “Welcome to the Seinfeld Congress,” NBC’s Scott Wong, Sahil Kapur and Frank Thorp V wrote. “It’s a show about nothing.”
Quote of the Day
"We will not pass a clean debt ceiling here without some form of spending reform. So there will never be a clean one. … At the end of the day, we’re going to get spending reforms. I believe you have to lift the debt ceiling, but you do not lift the debt ceiling without changing your behavior, so it’s got to be both."
− House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) reiterating at a Thursday news conference that Republicans will not raise the debt limit without conditions, as the White House has demanded.
Both McCarthy and Biden said they had a good meeting Wednesday, and the president said Thursday that he and the speaker would treat each other with respect. “It doesn’t mean we’re going to agree, and fight like hell, but let’s treat each other with respect,” Biden said at the national prayer breakfast, where he was sat next to McCarthy.
The speaker told reporters that they agreed that Biden will be in touch in a few days to schedule another meeting.
Analysis of the Day: McCarthy’s Debt Limit Dilemma
New York’s Eric Levitz breaks down the predicament facing House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, writing that the Republican leader and his conference have decided to hold the debt limit hostage and are only now trying to come up with their demands. McCarthy’s problem, Levitz says, is that it’s not possible to reconcile the fiscal demands of GOP activists with the political needs of the party’s elected officials:
Chart of the Day: Where Inflation Is Highest
Miami, Phoenix Seattle and Atlanta saw the highest annual inflation among U.S. metropolitan areas, according to the latest Consumer Price Index report, as illustrated by the Axios chart below. Axios’s Kelly Tyko notes that the Tampa and Dallas metro areas had the highest inflation in November and that CPI data is not available monthly for all metro areas.
Number of the Day: 102,943
U.S. businesses reported nearly 103,000 job cuts last month, up 440% from the prior January and the most for any month since 2020, according to data compiled by Challenger, Gray & Christmas and reported by Bloomberg. The tech sector accounted for 41% of those planned cuts. “Still, overall job losses remain historically low,” Bloomberg’s Augusta Saraiva and Reade Pickert say. “Economic activity may be cooling but many firms are still seeking to hire — and doling out higher wages to lure talent and retain employees.” Those trends are seen as driving the Federal Reserve to keep interest rates higher for longer as it looks to rein in inflation.
- Eyeing Defense Spending Cuts, House GOP Targets Military ‘Wokeness’ – The Hill
- Biden Announces Departure of Brian Deese From Top Economic Job – Washington Post
- It’s Back: Modernization Panel Finds a New Home Under House Administration – Roll Call
- End of Public Health Emergency Causes Cascade of Changes – Roll Call
- As Pandemic-Era Medicaid Provisions Lapse, Millions Approach a Coverage Cliff – Kaiser Health News
- What the End of the Covid Public Health Emergency Could Mean for You – New York Times
- Lawmakers Ask Biden to Add Drug Czar to Cabinet – The Hill
- Vaccine Makers Kept $1.4 Billion in Prepayments for Canceled Covid Shots for the World’s Poor – New York Times
- New York's Massive Budget Surplus Gives Hochul Money to Spend – Politico
Views and Analysis
- Assessing Political Spin in the Debt Ceiling Fight – Linda Qiu, New York Times
- Here Are the Ways the Debt Limit Fight Could End. Most Are Terrible – Washington Post Editorial Board
- Here's How the Debt Crisis Could End — if Biden-McCarthy Talks Fail – Burgess Everett, Sarah Ferris and Caitlin Emma, Politico
- Want to Cut Spending, Republicans? Liberals Have Some Ideas for That – Paul Waldman, Washington Post
- The Trillion-Dollar Question: Could a Coin Save the Day? – Alan Rappeport, New York Times
- The Debt Ceiling Is Not Powell’s Problem – Sam Sutton, Politico
- Republicans Aren’t Going to Tell Americans the Real Cause of Our $31.4 Trillion Debt – Robert Reich, Guardian
- A Simple Way Biden Could Stop This Drama and Ignore the Debt Limit – Zachary B. Wolf, CNN
- Why Beijing Is Cheering on the U.S. Debt Ceiling Fight – Michael Farr and Dan Mahaffee, CNBC
- Wealth Taxes Have Always Been a Terrible Idea – Allison Schrager, Bloomberg
- Three State Tax Cut Lessons for 2023 – Richard C. Auxier, Tax Policy Center
- Talking Softly Without Carrying a Big Enough Hawk – John Authers, Bloomberg
- The Fed’s Favorite Inflation Measure Has Some Large Holes – Ryan Cooper, American Prospect
- The Far-Reaching Implications of the Georgia Medicaid Work Experiment – Sara Rosenbaum, Commonwealth Fund
- We Already Have 18 Intelligence Agencies. We Still Need 1 More – Jonathan Panikoff, Politico