The 113th Congress is off to a slow start, but more spending is always on the agenda. The House will meet for its first full week, while the Senate will (thankfully) remain in recess for another week. The House Rules Committee will make up the pork-laden Sandy relief bill on Monday, and the full House will consider the bill on Tuesday. Beginning Tuesday, the House will commence the reading of the Constitutional from the floor, as they did at the start of last Congress. We can only hope that members will remember that they have no power to legislative over an beyond what is stated in that document.

113th Congress – With the start of the new Congress, there are some changes in membership, leadership, and committee assignments. Overall, the balance of power in the Senate will change from a Democrat majority of 53-47 to a majority of 55-45.  The Republican majority in the House will shrink slightly from 242 seats to a majority of 234 to 201 Democrats.

At this point, the leadership hierarchy for the next session of Congress is as follows:

Senate (Democrat)

  • Majority Leader : Harry Reid
  • Majority Whip: Dick Durbin
  • Caucus Vice Chair and Policy Committee Chair: Chuck Schumer
  • Caucus Secretary: Patty Murray
  • Senatorial Campaign Committee Chair: Michael Bennet
  • Policy Committee Vice Chair: Debbie Stabenow

Senate (Republican)

  • Minority Leader: Mitch McConnell
  • Minority Whip: John Cornyn
  • Conference Chairman: John Thune
  • Policy Committee Chairman: John Barrasso
  • Conference Vice Chair: Roy Blunt
  • Senatorial Committee Chair: Jerry Moran

House of Representatives

Speaker of the House: John Boehner

Majority (Republican) leadership

  • Majority Leader: Eric Cantor
  • Majority Whip: Kevin McCarthy
  • Majority Chief Deputy Whip: Peter Roskam
  • Conference Chair: Cathy McMorris-Rodgers
  • Campaign Committee Chairman: Greg Walden
  • Policy Committee Chairman: James Lankford
  • Conference Vice-Chair: Lynn Jenkins
  • Conference Secretary: Virginia Foxx

Minority (Democrat) leadership

  • Minority Leader: Nancy Pelosi
  • Minority Whip: Steny Hoyer
  • Assistant Democratic Leader: Jim Clyburn
  • Senior Chief Deputy Minority Whip: John Lewis
  • Caucus Chairman: Xavier Becerra
  • Caucus Vice-Chairman: Joseph Crowley
  • Campaign Committee Chairman: Steve Israel

In case you were wondering which committees your members of Congress will sit on this year, here are some links to the full committee rosters:

Senate Republicans, Senate Democrats, House Republicans (just the chairmen), House Democrats (just the ranking members)

Hurricane Sandy Relief Bill – Immediately before the end of 2012, the Senate passed Obama’s bloated Sandy “relief” bill (H.R. 1) 62-32.  The $60.4 billion price tag makes this the most expensive disaster aid bill on record.  It’s full of special interest projects that have nothing to do with the emergency, as witnessed by the fact that 64% of the funds will not be spent until FY 2015.  [Taxpayers for Commonsense has a good rundown of the wasteful provision.]  Nonetheless, the bill passed with the support of 12 Republicans. However, due to the expiration of the 112th Congress, a new bill must originate in the House again during the current session.

On Friday, January 4, the House and the Senate restarted the process in the new Congress by commencing with the vital disaster funding in a separate bill.  They passed a $9.7 billion package that dealt with immediate disaster relief. The bill increased the borrowing authority of the National Flood Insurance Program from $20,725,000,000 to $30,425,000,000. While conservatives agree with the imperative of passing this (and only this) component of the disaster package, it is problematic that the funding was not offset. Congress designated the funding as emergency spending and therefore not subject to any discretionary or disaster relief spending caps established by the Budget Control Act. If we ever plan to get our budget under control, we must offset even this type of emergency spending.  There are plenty of areas where we could find an extra $10 billion to cut.

Moreover, while we owe it to the Sandy victims to deal with the immediate problem, we must enact long-term reforms for the flood insurance program.  The program already owes taxpayers $18 billion in borrowed funds from the last bailout. Congress passed a bill in 2011 that was supposed to solve the very problems that we are dealing with now.  At some point, we must chart a course towards privatization of this institution. Rep. Jeb Hensarling, the new chairman of the Financial Services Committee, spoke strongly about this on the House floor and has promised to bring major reform legislation to the floor this year.

This week, the House will consider the additional $50 billion in Sandy aid in two parts. The House would first try to pass a bill (H.R. 152)  likely to provide about $17 billion to address the more immediate recovery needs, including money for FEMA’s disaster relief fund. Sandy has caused the fund’s balance to drop to $3.94 billion as of Dec. 31, from more than $7 billion on Oct. 1.

Then the House will consider an amendment, sponsored by Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.), which will include a $33 billion long-term package, containing much of the extraneous spending that passed the Senate. $16 billion, or almost half the package, is for the Community Development Block Grant, which is nothing more than a multi-purpose account for states to use on any project.

Conservatives have filed several amendments that will hopefully be considered on the House floor. Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) has proposed two amendments to offset the $17 billion package; one would cut all discretionary programs by 1.63% and the other would eliminate direct subsidies to farmers, outstanding TARP spending, and transit subsidies for federal employees. Rep. Tom McClintock has an amendment that would eliminate all long-term funding that does not deal with the immediate disaster.

Conservatives must demand that the final bill be limited to necessary and immediate disaster spending; that it be offset by other spending cuts; that it includes accountability measures for FEMA. Unfortunately, the Senate will now have more leverage thanks to the 12 Republicans who voted for Obama’s Christmas wish list.

A crisis should not be used as an opportunity to play on people’s emotions for the purpose of perpetuating bad public policy. If we don’t reform these programs now to include more privatization and state control where there will be more local accountability, we will continue down the same path with every future natural disaster.

Bonus Legislation

[Every week, we will try to spotlight some positive legislation that is worthy of conservative support.]

  • H.R. 133: To repeal the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990:  Before the blood even dried from the victims of the horrific massacre at Sandy Hook, liberals engaged in repulsive demagoguery to promote their anti-gun agenda. While we would like to keep politics out of this tragedy, we must not remain silent in the face of the impending onslaught against the Second Amendment. To that end, Congressman Tom Massie (R-KY), a new freshman star, has decided to go on offense. In 1990, Congress passed the Gun Free School Zones Act, which made it “unlawful for any individual knowingly to possess a firearm at a place that the individual knows, or has reasonable cause to believe is a school zone.” It doesn’t take rocket science to figure out that most of the massacres have taken place at gun free zones. Although the Supreme Court struck down the law in 1995, Congress made minor tweaks to it, and it has been in effect for almost two decades. Massie is sponsoring H.R. 133, which would completely repeal this unconstitutional law that invites more criminal activity. Please urge your members to cosponsor this bill.

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