Courtney ‘hoping for the best’ on new balance of power in Congress
After waiting to find out which way the balance of power would officially sway, U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District weighed in this week on the new, slim, Republican majority in the House of Representatives.
Courtney, who was elected to his ninth term in Congress earlier this month, said of the Republican majority in his chamber: “For the sake of the country, I’m hoping for the best.”
While the November election didn’t produce a widely predicted “red wave,” Republicans were successful in flipping the House. Democrats retained a majority in the Senate.
Republicans have picked up at least seven seats and hold 219 of the 435 House seats, with four races remaining to be called. Courtney pointed out that Democrats held a similarly slim majority in the House the past two years.
“It slowed things down, there’s no question about it, our slender majority delayed final passage of the infrastructure bill from July to November, which is unfortunate because the holdouts really accomplished nothing with their opposition,” Courtney said. “Getting to the big package on climate change and prescription drugs obviously didn’t happen until August, two years into the congressional term. That was the result of Senators (Joe) Manchin and (Kyrsten) Sinema exerting tremendous sway over the process. These tight margins are going to continue to create opportunities for people who either correctly believe they can extract an agenda or incorrectly believe that, like with what happened with the infrastructure bill.”
The $1 trillion infrastructure deal was signed by President Joe Biden in November. House progressives resisted an effort to vote on the deal. Centrist Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia were largely responsible for the holdup on the Senate side.
Nancy Pelosi stepped down from House Democratic leadership following the election. Courtney has thrown his support behind New York Rep. Hakim Jeffries, who has not hidden his disdain for the left wing of his party in the past. House Democrats are scheduled to elect a new leader on Nov. 30.
Courtney invited Jeffries to Groton shortly before the election for the 41st Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Awards Dinner at the Mystic Marriott.
“He was chair of the House caucus for at least four years if not more and really performed superbly in terms of making everyone feel included. He definitely did not put himself in the way of consensus or the process, which is so important for a speaker,” Courtney said of Jeffries. “He will do a great job.”
Courtney said expected House Speaker and current House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California could be in for a challenge in his bid to be elected speaker.
“When (John) Boehner was elected in 2015, the Republican majority was at 248. It took two roll call votes before he finally got to 218. There were people holding out against him,” Courtney said. “There’s at least three who’ve already said they’re not going to support McCarthy…that vote could be a long day.”
Even with the Republican majority in the House, Courtney expects the House Armed Services committee, and its Seapower subcommittee, which he chairs, will remain relatively immune to the partisan politics elsewhere in Washington.
Courtney has used his position on the committee in part to try and secure submarine contracts whether Democrats were in the majority or minority.
“At this point the plan is to go back on Seapower as ranking member,” Courtney said. “It’s a committee that works the old-fashioned way…It’s historically one of the healthier forums in Congress.”
Courtney spoke to legislation he hopes isn’t affected by the Republican majority in the House, including extending prescription drug cost reductions to private and employer-based health insurance plans: “That’s going to be a tall order with the new majority.”
Courtney pointed out that the Senate still hasn’t approved the National Defense Authorization Act, which the House approved over the summer.
Courtney said he spoke with U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, of Connecticut, who is the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, this week about the federal budget. He said she is eager to “work with the Senate appropriators to get the budget whipped into shape.”
“The continuing resolution expires December 16th; Right now we’re being told we’re going to be in session until the 16th to get this thing done,” Courtney said. “This is going to be a real test of whether this new wafer-thin majority that’s going to take power in January is going to be inclined to work together.”
“If they do do another continuing resolution and punt the government funding over to 2023, that puts all of government on auto pilot,” Courtney added. “It’s very disruptive to contracting, to a whole host of normal functions that get suspended when you’re operating under a continuing resolution. It also means you have to do two budgets in one year: Be careful what you wish for.”