Republican hopes for a “red wave” in the 2022 midterms that would sweep the party into power in both houses of Congress fell short on Election Day. The party lost a seat in the Senate, leaving the current divide at 51-49 in favor of the Democrats, and while the GOP was successful in retaking the House of Representatives, it currently only holds a slim 10-seat majority in the chamber.
With a Democrat-held Senate, Joe Biden in the White House, and divisions within his own party, it might seem like House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is extremely limited in what he can hope to achieve before the next election cycle, there are several things House Republicans can actually achieve before they get the chance to win the Senate and presidency in 2024.
Given the current state of partisanship and McCarthy’s reported dislike of the current president, bipartisan action that favors the GOP is unlikely, except with a few moderate Democrat lawmakers. Therefore, obstruction, investigations, and utilization of the House’s power of the purse will be the primary tools at McCarthy’s disposal.
Good old-fashioned obstruction is a simple but effective strategy for the House GOP until 2024. Even with a slim majority, Republicans can block any legislation that gets passed by the equally slim Democrat majority in the Senate. At the very least, the Republicans should be able to extract advantageous compromises from Senate Democrats on any legislation originating in the upper chamber.
Perhaps the most consequential power reserved for the House is the so-called “power of the purse.” The House initiates all revenue bills, giving Republicans the chance to establish the terms and have the upper hand for any spending bill until 2024. The House Appropriations Committee, which regulates the expenditure of federal money, will be especially important to GOP efforts to rein in spending.
The chamber’s Republicans used that power to rescind almost $70 billion in additional funding for the IRS in early January. It will most likely not pass in the Senate, but it nevertheless gives the party the chance to renegotiate the funding boost for an agency that has targeted Republicans in the past.
A rules package passed by the House in early January reinstated a rule that could give even more power to Republicans — the Holman Rule. Under the rule, which was first introduced in 1876, but sparingly enforced, representatives can add amendments that can reduce the salaries of federal employees and cut funding for federal agency programs.
Bills with amendments that invoke the rule could still be blocked by the Senate, but with the cooperation of more moderate senators like Joe Manchin (D-WV) or Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ), it could help keep some federal agencies in check.
The ongoing debt ceiling debate showcases how McCarthy could extract pro-GOP concessions from the Democrats.
The federal government has until June 5 to raise the debt ceiling, how much the government can borrow to pay for its expenses, or it will face a default, which could wreak havoc on the economy.
McCarthy met with President Joe Biden last week to discuss solutions to the debt ceiling, but reported that no agreement was reached. McCarthy promised to aim for an 8% overall reduction — bringing it down to 2022 levels — during his campaign for speaker, and he could manage to get some cuts in order to avoid the default.
“Debt limit debates have been used for nearly every successful attempt to reform federal spending in living history. Why? Because the problem only gets solved when both parties come to the table,” the House speaker said in a Monday address.
House Republicans refused to budge on spending cuts during the last debt ceiling crisis in 2011. Only a last-minute deal prevented a default, but this time they could get significant compromises from an administration that has dealt with a sluggish economy for the entirety of its tenure and does not want to risk an economic meltdown ahead of the 2024 presidential campaign season.
If Republicans can stand their ground without caving into pressure from the media and the public to pass the resolution, they can most likely get at least some spending concessions from Democrats who want to avoid a default.
House Republicans can launch investigations and create new subcommittees to deal with specific issues. In January, they created the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government. The subcommittee is tasked with investigating alleged incidents of federal agencies, including the FBI and the military, colluding with private entities to suppress conservative viewpoints.
They also created the Select Committee on the Strategic Competition between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party, which will focus on economic competition as well as security concerns between the U.S. and China.
Just as the Russian collusion hoax and the January 6 riot became focal point issues in the House during Democrats’ time in power, Republicans have the opportunity to utilize these newly created committees to pivot toward issues critical to their voters and keep them in the media spotlight.
They can also remove certain Democrats from important committees. McCarthy denied California Democrats Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell seats on the House Intelligence Committee in late January, removing the two biggest proponents of the Russia collusion hoax from the pivotal committee. House Republicans also voted to remove Ilhan Omar (D-MN) from the House Foreign Affairs Committee over her numerous anti-Semitic remarks.
McCarthy also has a nuclear option under his sleeve. Under the Constitution, the House of Representatives has the sole right to introduce articles of impeachment against federal officials. That right was used twice by Democrats during the Trump administration to impeach the former president, and if McCarthy can rally his own party around the idea, then House Republicans could use articles of impeachment to target both Biden and key members of his administration.
The articles themselves only require a simple majority vote to proceed to the Senate. A two-thirds majority is then required in the Senate to actually convict, so it is highly unlikely any of the officials targeted would actually be removed unless there was unequivocal evidence of malfeasance. But McCarthy could still use the impeachment votes and subsequent trials in the Senate to hinder Biden’s administration and provide a spotlight on the administration’s policies.
Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) said on February 1 that he would file articles of impeachment against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and accused the Biden official of intentional “negligence” on the ongoing border crisis.
So, Republicans do have the ability to get things done for their constituents before the next election cycle, even though Democrats control the Executive Branch and the Senate. The real question is if McCarthy has the willpower to take the actions needed to achieve them and whether he can keep his party united.