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Legislative Update

Senate. The Senate convened at noon today for the start of the 118th Congress. Following the swearing in of Senators who won their races in November, including seven who are newly elected, Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) was elected president pro tempore to succeed Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who retired. The Senate will reconvene January 23, which will also be the first day for bill introductions.

House. The House today has thus far taken three votes to elect a Speaker, and Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy has failed to secure the majority necessary to win. This is the first time since 1923 that a Speaker wasn’t elected on the first ballot, and there is no clear indication as to what the path forward will be. Until a Speaker is elected, no other business can be conducted.

Once a Speaker is elected, all Members, including 74 newly elected Representatives, will be sworn in. The House then plans to adopt a rules package that Republicans unveiled Jan. 1. Among other things, the new rules would end proxy voting and remote committee proceedings, require a three-fifths supermajority vote on tax rate increases, and rename two committees. The Committee on Education and Labor will once again be called the Committee on Education and the Workforce, while the Committee on Oversight and Reform will become the Committee on Oversight and Accountability. The Oversight panel will also be the home to a new Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic.

If the House is able to elect a Speaker, swear in Members, and adopt the rules package, the Republican leadership plans floor votes this week on several pieces of legislation, including rescinding unobligated funds from the $80 billion approved last year for the IRS and establishing a Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party.

According to a Dec. 30 notice from the House Sergeant at Arms, the Capitol and the House office buildings reopened today to tour and official business visitor access. Staff are no longer required to escort guests in the House office buildings, while a staff member may escort up to 15 visitors on official business within the Capitol. Access to the Capitol Visitor Center will fully reopen in March.

Budget Primer. In late December Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders released a comprehensive document explaining “in excruciating detail, how the congressional budget process works.” The 1,580-page report, appropriately titled The Congressional Budget Process, can be found online here, and a paperback version will be available soon from the Government Printing Office. As the foreword notes, the budget process “gives new meaning to the word Byzantine….No one would intentionally design something like this.”

Political Update

Nebraska Senate. Senator Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) will resign on Jan. 8 to become president of the University of Florida. The incoming governor, Jim Pillen (R), will take office on Jan. 5 and appoint Sasse’s successor. Outgoing Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) is the leading candidate to replace Sasse.

Virginia Special Election. State Senator Jennifer McClellan won the Democratic primary on Dec. 20 for the seat of the late Rep. Donald McEachin (D). McClellan is expected to prevail in the Feb. 21 special election.

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