The 114th U.S. Congress is officially meeting for the first time today and, for the first time in eight years, Republicans will control both the House and the Senate. This will also be the final Congress President Obama will work with (or at least try to work with). With the White House and Capitol Hill presumably set to butt heads for the next two years, let’s take a look at the issues that the sides will try to get a handle on, as well as the demographics that make up this version of Congress.
Keystone XL Pipeline: Just this afternoon, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters President Obama will most likely veto Keystone Pipeline legislation if it ever made it to the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office. Both chambers tried to pass a Keystone bill in November in an attempt to give an edge to the candidates running in the runoff election for one of Louisiana’s senate seats (Bill Cassidy, a Republican, defeated incumbent Mary Landrieu, a Democrat). The Republican controlled Congress could still try to pass the Keystone legislation, along with bills that directly contradict President Obama’s larger energy policies.
Immigration: Republicans in Congress pressed President Obama to hold off on taking executive action on immigration back in November. While the president went ahead with his plan to allow up to five million illegal immigrants stay in the country, his action still needs to be funded, which means another battle with Congress appears likely.
Affordable Care Act: While in the minority through the first six years of the Obama presidency, Republicans in both chambers of Congress proposed votes to repeal “Obamacare” many times. None of those votes had any real chance of passing and were primarily done to get members of Congress to go on official record as voting for or against the measure (how else were PACs and congressional members supposed to make those campaign ads everybody adores?) Now that Republicans have control of both houses of Congress, the effort to repeal the act will most likely ramp up. Take this quote from newly re-elected House Speaker John Boehner (which first appeared in Al-Jazeera America shortly after the elections last year):
“The House, I am sure, will move next year to repeal ‘Obamacare,’ because it should be repealed and it should be replaced with common-sense reforms,” said Speaker of the House John Boehner.
Thus far, over seven million previously uninsured people have signed up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.
Ever hear the song “Won’t Get Fooled Again” by The Who? One of my favorite songs. Why do I bring this up? Well, near the end of the over eight minute song, there sits a lyric that is not altogether inappropriate for this story:
Meet the new boss/same as the old boss
Those lyrics could very well be the slogan for the 114th Congress. According to PolitiFact.com, roughly 95% of lawmakers up for re-election in 2014 were in fact sent back to Congress despite the fact that Congress as a whole had an approval rating in the teens heading into the mid-term elections. However, according to a September 2014 poll conducted by Gallup, 54% of respondents approved of their own representative’s performance in Congress, providing at least some level of explanation as to why the majority of such an unpopular Congress was sent back to work there.
Though many of the members who will serve in the 114th Congress are the same as the previous Congress, there are some interesting trends in this new version. According to Yahoo! News, a record 104 women between the two chambers will hold seats (out of 535 total seats), one more than the previous Congress. So despite a new record number of women, men still dominate Congress (remember that same as the old boss line?)
In terms of race, the New York Times reports nearly 87% of the new Congress is white (79.8% for the House, 94% in the Senate). While that overall number of whites in Congress is still very high, there have been slow gains amongst African-Americans, Asians, and Hispanics in recent years.
We all know of the dismal approval ratings Congress has posted over the past several years (see above). Most people who give Congress a low rating would probably say the fact that the members in the chambers cannot seem to agree to do or work on anything constructive is the reason why they would give the legislative body low marks. Well, I would advise such tough graders to stay away from cable news and political websites today.
Of all the days the Congress is in session and its members inside the Capitol Building, today is one of the busiest days that accomplishes nothing on the legislative calendar. I know what you must be thinking- isn’t that pretty much everyday? Well, take a look at this article from Yahoo! News, which lists what procedural issues a new Congress has to settle and how the members go about doing so. It is a pretty interesting look inside the seemingly random rules and traditions Congress uses that many Americans have not a clue about.