After four days and 15 ballots, and much trepidation, Kevin McCarthy was elected as the Speaker of the House of Representatives for the 118th Congress. It may be a pyrrhic victory for the California congressman who must make good on numerous concessions to the far-right wing of the Republican Party, including one that allows just one House Member to call for a motion to vacate the speaker’s chair. This may be particularly troublesome because it was Rep. Matt Gaetz who delivered the crucial vote at the urging of former President Donald Trump. It was no surprise that Speaker McCarthy’s first remarks were words of gratitude for Trump and Gaetz for his elevation to Speaker, which means he is operating with the Sword of Damocles hanging over his head with the impulsive Trump able to orchestrate his ouster on a whim.
McCarthy claimed the Speaker’s gavel in the early hours of Saturday morning. His first order of business on Monday was to pass a package of rules that will determine how the House operates during the 118th Congress. In that rules package are stipulations that a decision on the debt ceiling will depend on cuts to entitlement programs—meaning Medicare and Social Security. Expect the fringe element to push for reduced spending for the Affordable Care Act. President Biden has stated he will not negotiate away social spending for vulnerable populations. Conservative Republicans were aghast at the notion that defense spending may be cut, which could mean a reduction in support for the Ukrainian army. A standoff and failure to lift the debt ceiling would bring the government to a grinding halt. The debt ceiling covers prior obligations, and failure to raise it could diminish the nation’s credit standing.
A significant focus of the Republican’s agenda in the new Congress is to “provide oversight on the Biden Administration,” which includes his son Hunter Biden who is not an employee of the White House staff or federal government. Hunter Biden has been on the Republicans’ hitlist going back to 2019 when Donald Trump attempted to coerce Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky into supporting a Rudy Giuliani probe of Hunter Biden. This led to Trump’s first impeachment. Republicans vow to “investigate the investigators,” which means spending millions of dollars of taxpayer money to look into the Department of Justice and FBI probes into the events of January 6, 2021, and Trump’s sequestering top secret documents at his club in Mar-a-Lago. The plan is to damage President Biden as much as possible leading up to the 2024 elections, ala Hillary Clinton and Benghazi.
The nation dodged a bullet during the 2022 midterm elections when Democrats were able to blunt an expected “red wave” election that would have delivered the Senate to Republicans along with the House. With Democrats controlling the Senate, House Republicans will pass damaging legislation that will die in the Senate and never reach the President’s desk for signature. There will be much bluster coming from Republicans in the House, but President Biden’s agenda will move forward and have positive effects on struggling families. Expect nothing from Republicans that will address the many critical problems confronting the United States. Their mission is to neuter the federal government.
Another development that may not have garnered much attention last week during the speaker elections was the announcement by Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan that she will not run for reelection in 2024, ending a career that spanned more than two decades. She made history in 2000 when she was elected as the first woman to hold a U.S. Senate seat representing Michigan. She received her M.S.W. from Michigan State University in 1975. With her departure, the number of social work Members of Congress is dwindling. When I arrived on the Hill in 2010, there were a dozen social workers in the House and Senate. With the recent departure of Rep. Karen Bass, now mayor of Los Angeles, there will be four social workers in the 118th Congress. We must increase efforts to get more social workers on the Hill.
I will not attend the Society for Social Work and Research (SSWR) conference this week. I regret not being there to celebrate with fellow board members of the Social Work Democracy Project. CRISP Legislator Director Angelique Day will be recognized as the Social Policy Researcher Emerging Scholar, and Michael Sherraden will receive the Distinguished Career Achievement Award. Last year was a banner year for our board members. In addition to the SSWR awards, Mimi Abramovitz was selected for an honorary degree from Sweden’s prestigious Lund University. Board President Justin Hodge was chosen to chair the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners. Darcey Merritt was awarded a full professorship as the newest faculty member at the University of Chicago Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice. And political maven Marla Blunt-Carter successfully spearheaded the reelection of her sister, Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester (DE). If you are attending the SSWR conference, please consider wearing a mask.