The 118th U.S. Congress is now in session

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Photo by Patrick Semansky / AP
Photo by Patrick Semansky / AP

On January 3, 2023, the 118th U.S. congressional session began. For the next two years, this Congress will work with (and against) the Biden administration until the next congressional election.

Much has changed in Washington with the swearing-in of new House Republicans. The party now controls the House of Representatives, but due to a surprisingly small "red wave" in November, Democrats were able to hold onto a slight majority in the Senate, and even increase it by one seat.

2023's newest political drama
The new session has been full of drama, even before officially beginning. Following the November election, Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema announced she would become an independent. This narrowed the very thin Senate majority the party holds. However, it still has a slight advantage thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris's tie-breaking power.

As if the party realignments in the Senate weren't enough, the House of Representatives has been facing different issues. For the first time in over a century, the House adjourned without a speaker, after Republican Kevin McCarthy failed to receive a majority of the votes needed to secure the position. The resistance to McCarthy came mostly from far-right members of the Republican conference, whose personal distrust of the representative came after he spoke out against former president Donald Trump following the January 6 insurrection. McCarthy has since expressed support once again for the former president.

At 1 a.m. on January 7, after 15 rounds of voting, and much bargaining, the new Speaker of the House was officially sworn in, but not without making many concessions to the MAGA supporters who had opposed him.

One of these includes allowing rank-and-file members of the House GOP to gain more influence over legislation. Another important change to the rules of the House is an update regarding a motion to vacate. Previously, if representatives were dissatisfied with the Speaker, only party leaders could bring forward a motion to vacate the seat in favor of another Speaker. Now, if only one sitting member brings forward a motion to vacate, a vote can be held to oust McCarthy. This rewrite of the rules could potentially put the Speaker in the pockets of the far right, leading the House to vote on more MAGA-backed legislation.

What are House Republicans planning to do next?
So, what can American voters expect to see from this new Congress? First, the House plans on conducting several investigations. On the top of their list, Republicans want to look into fentanyl overdoses, the origins of COVID-19, censorship by "Big Tech," the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the politicization of the Department of Justice, and the "border crisis."

One of Republicans' biggest complaints about the current administration is over higher gas prices and inflation. Republicans blame American dependency on foreign oil. In the Speaker's new "Commitment to America" document, House Republicans have put together a plan to combat economic struggles by sacrificing historic environmental wins made by the Biden administration.

In Biden's first two years, the president has made the largest investment into the clean-energy transition the United States has ever seen, thanks in part to a Democratic majority in Congress. Now the House is planning to move climate efforts away from investing in renewable energy and toward supporting more natural gas extraction in the United States.

House Republicans have committed to a strong economy by agreeing to "maximize production of reliable, American-made energy... [and] cut the permitting process time in half to reduce reliance on foreign countries, prevent rolling blackouts, and lower the cost of gas and utilities." This focus moves away from long-term environmental protection in favor of short-term economic gains.

"The Biden administration wants to take the California model national, trade American energy for foreign dependence, and make U.S. energy more expensive and less competitive," Rep. Garret Graves of Louisiana said.

The new Republican economic model also encourages the US to expand manufacturing and move supply chains away from China.

Republican plans to "defend" America
Of course, Republicans in Congress are still fighting for more funding to "secure the southern border." The Commitment to America states that "the situation at the border has become both a national security and humanitarian crisis and must be addressed immediately."

In the House, this means pushing legislation that will increase funding of border enforcement strategies, infrastructure, and "advanced technology to prevent illegal crossings and trafficking by cartels." Also on the agenda for Republicans is making it necessary for employees to show proof of "legal status" to get a job and eliminating welfare programs and incentives.

Republicans in the House are also hoping to reduce crime by introducing and voting on legislation that will combat police defunding efforts made in the wake of grassroots anti—police brutality movements.

Not only do they aim to increase police funding, but they also want to combat "liberal prosecutors and district attorneys who fail to do their job and keep criminals off the streets." This plan also includes supporting 200,000 more police officers through recruitment and higher retention bonuses.

Fentanyl
The Commitment to America document claims that 300 Americans die of fentanyl poisoning every week and that this is directly linked to both an influx of immigration at the southern border and a weakened police state due to funding cuts. Because they are concerned for American safety, Republicans plan to introduce legislation that will criminalize all forms of fentanyl.

They also claim the drug is the leading cause of death in Americans aged 18-45, although the claim is disputed. "According to preliminary 2021 data, accidents were the leading cause of death among 18-45-year-olds, with accidental synthetic opioid overdoses amounting to less than half of those deaths," Jeff Lancashire, a spokesperson for the CDC, told the AP.

While House Republicans are hoping to introduce fiscally conservative policies, they plan on increasing funding to more than just the police. In their plans for the next two years, they also intend to "invest in the efficient, effective military" and "exercise peace through strength with our allies to counter increasing global threats."

Expect to see more anti-LGBTQ+ legislation
Some of House Republicans' most concerning plans have been deemed by many on the left as bigotry disguised as compassion. The social issues the party will be focusing on most are "family issues," mostly regarding censorship of materials in public schools, anti-Trans laws for youth sports, and continuing to strip away abortion access.

"When parents tried to understand what their children were being taught and how their tax dollars were being spent, they weren't just ignored — they were targeted by this administration," the Commitment to America Document reads.

Now Republicans are hoping to advance what they call "the Parents' Bill of Rights," which will protect a parent's right to know what their child is being taught in school, protect their children's privacy, and provide access to information regarding public school funding. The plan also mentions a parent's right to "be heard."

"Parents should be able to choose a curriculum for their child that fits with their values and their beliefs," Republican Rep. Julia Letlow said in support of the pan. This will also include banning Trans girls from competing in women's sports, as Republicans see it as a violation of Title IX, a law the party has historically opposed.

Schools and Big Tech
Republicans are also determined to keep schools open and blame the current administration for the drop in test scores that was seen nationwide after the COVID-19 pandemic led all public schools to move to temporary online teaching. While online education is something the party is united in fighting against, one of its core pillars for healthcare is expanding online telehealth coverage. They also plan on reducing the costs of drugs and healthcare through "transparency, choice, and competition."

The final hurdle Republicans are hoping to overcome in the next two years is the war they are fighting against "Big Tech." They believe the social media industry is working to silence and censor conservative viewpoints, and so they hope to introduce new laws that will limit the power and range that social media apps like TikTok have in the United States.

"Worse than crystalizing an ideological echo chamber, these apps have proven to be incredibly addictive for children, with potentially devastating consequences," states the Commitment to America document.

Republicans have also put forth statistics to back up these claims, such as that 70% of Republican campaign emails go to spam in Gmail, compared to just 10% of Democratic ones, an issue they believe reflects biases by tech companies.

Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers agrees with this sentiment and ran on campaign promises to hold Big Tech accountable. "Your platforms are my biggest fear as a parent," she said in a statement to Big Tech CEOs. "I'm a mom of three school-aged kids. My husband and I are fighting the Big Tech battles in our household every day. It's a battle for their development, a battle for their mental health, and ultimately, a battle for their safety."

Voters can expect to see new bills targeting social media apps and platforms like YouTube, TikTok, and Twitter in the next few years.

Despite the big plans Republicans in the House have for the next term, the slim Democratic majority in the Senate and Biden's veto power should be enough of a safeguard to block harmful anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and more anti-immigration bills from actually becoming law.

However, Americans everywhere should prepare for more debate over identities and a turbulent two years — which will surely bring more turmoil for Speaker of the House McCarthy.