They didn’t get a “red wave,” but Republicans are nevertheless projected to win a majority of seats in the House of Representatives from last week’s midterm elections.
In January, the speaker’s gavel will likely pass from Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), and from then on Democrats will struggle to pass as much legislation as they did during the previous two years.
But the slimmer-than-expected GOP majority means Republicans will have somewhat less leverage to force Democrats into major policy concessions.
The House majority does not give Republicans complete control of Congress, since Democrats retained control of the Senate, but the House will still give Republicans a much bigger platform to skewer President Joe Biden, including through impeachment resolutions against Cabinet officials and maybe even Biden himself.
Even short of impeachment, having subpoena power and the committee chair gavels will allow Republicans to pursue investigations and probes that will not have bipartisan support, such as looking into Hunter Biden’s business dealings.
In recent months, Republicans have outlined, either in comments or through proposed legislation, a constellation of potential inquiries that appear aimed at the 2024 election cycle as much as on conducting congressional oversight.
Far-right lawmakers Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) will also be allowed to return to committee seats, giving them new megaphones for conspiracy theories about Democrats and the supposed deep state persecution of Donald Trump and his supporters.
McCarthy has said Republicans will pursue a “Commitment to America” plan addressing inflation, crime and border security through a series of off-the-shelf proposals Republicans have authored over the years, such as a 2019 bill creating additional “work requirements” in the tiny federal welfare program best known for funneling money to Brett Favre.
Though House Republicans will struggle to enact an agenda, because they still need cooperation from Senate Democrats and a Democratic president, their majority is poised to make a major impact on the global economy next year.
McCarthy has already indicated his conference will demand major concessions from Democrats in exchange for lifting the “debt ceiling,” which is a legal limit on how much the federal government can borrow in order to pay bills Congress has already required it to pay.
“You can’t just continue down the path to keep spending and adding to the debt,” McCarthy said last month.
At some point likely in the late summer or early fall, the Treasury Department will run up against the debt limit, and Congress will have to change the law to raise the limit and prevent a debt default, which would be unprecedented and could cause a financial crisis.
It’s not clear what exactly Republicans plan to demand, though some lawmakers have suggested they’ll seek cuts to Social Security and Medicare. The problem is, it’s hard to imagine Democrats going along with extreme demands, and also hard to imagine right-wing Republicans backing down just because of warnings from economists, especially with Trump urging them to refuse to raise the debt ceiling.
To head off the economic threat, it’s possible Democrats will try to deal with the debt ceiling next month while they still control the House rather than leave it for next year.
Greene’s rise illustrates the power Trump still holds over elected Republicans. Back in February 2021 the House voted to remove her from committees due to her past claims that school shootings and terrorist attacks were hoaxes. She never apologized, and since then Greene has become more influential within the House GOP conference because Trump likes her. That means McCarthy has to be nice.
As Greene herself recently put it, “I think that to be the best speaker of the House and to please the base, he’s going to give me a lot of power and a lot of leeway.” She described Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) as “Biden’s bitch” for agreeing to debt ceiling legislation last year.
Republican control of the House will have another global impact: threatening Ukraine’s attempt to free its eastern and southern regions from Russian control following Russian president Vladimir Putin’s brutal invasion in February.
McCarthy telegraphed House Republicans’ appetite for blocking further aid for Ukraine in mid-October, telling the website Punchbowl News “I think people are gonna be sitting in a recession and they’re not going to write a blank check to Ukraine.”
But McConnell, McCarthy’s counterpart in the Senate, remains a proponent of arming Ukraine, so it’s not clear if the House GOP’s position can prevail.
Before House Republicans assume control next year, lawmakers will return to Washington this month for what will likely be a busy lame-duck session involving a major government funding bill, a bill to protect gay marriage, and a bill to make it harder for lawmakers to object to presidential election results.