What the Speaker spectacle means for 2023

If you’re like me, you were glued to the TV late Friday night as Kevin McCarthy and his allies negotiated, cajoled, and begged fellow Republicans to support his ascension to Speaker of the House. After a full week of 15 failed votes and one near fist fight, McCarthy finally gained enough support from his co-partisans to become Speaker. This allows the House to consider a rules package, organize committees, and begin conducting legislative business.

Now that that’s over, it is time to learn a few lessons about what last week says about challenges and opportunities in the 118th Congress.

Lesson #1: House Republicans are not united.

In ideology, tactics, and personalities, last week showed the degree of internal disunity within the Republican conference. Nobody can credibly claim to speak for House Republicans. This carries serious implications for negotiations between House Democrats and Republicans; between the House and Senate; and with the Administration. With a similarly narrow majority, Nancy Pelosi was able to keep internal disagreements from reaching the boiling point – Kevin McCarthy cannot.

Lesson #2: Republican power is with the Freedom Caucus (for now)

In return for their votes, McCarthy provided the most conservative Republicans massive concessions relating to House process, representation on key committees, spending reductions, and even the security of McCarthy’s own position. The Freedom Caucus won for itself powers previously wielded solely by the Speaker and proved their willingness to rebuff 90 percent of their conference to achieve it. A key question is whether other Republican factions – like defense hawks, self-described moderates, or the 14 members who won in Biden districts – will be similarly willing to play hardball. If not, the real ‘leadership’ of the Republican conference will be the Freedom Caucus.

Lesson #3: Nothing will be easy, especially “must-pass” legislation.

This year, Congress will have to find a path to increase the debt limit, fund the government, and enact a Defense Authorization. Having apparently agreed to cap discretionary spending at Fiscal Year 2022 levels (which could mean a $75 billion defense cut), each of these necessities may trigger a knock-down, drag-out fight both among Republicans, and between Republicans and Democrats. And by making it easy for his own conference to depose him, McCarthy will constantly be walking on a knife’s edge. Whatever the date for an important deadline, take the over.

Most importantly, disengagement is not an option.

As the adage goes, if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu. The House majority will be intent on achieving substantial spending reductions and stopping legislative initiatives from the Senate or the Biden Administration. It is more important than ever to make a proactive and convincing case – to the House, Senate, and the Administration – about the critical importance of investments that are critical to your organization and those it serves. CRD team members are carefully reviewing the rules changes and analyzing their implications for our clients and their priorities to prepare for the tumultuous year ahead.

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