On Jan. 3, 2023, the U.S. House of Representatives convened the 118th Congress following midterm elections where Republicans narrowly flipped the chamber.
The new majority kicked off a slow and theatrical start with a now-notorious string of votes to choose the Speaker of the House – the longest series of such votes since before the Civil War. After 15 ballots over the course of four days, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) was elected speaker following concessions to conservative members of the Republican caucus. Republican leadership also includes Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA) and Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-MN). An entirely new slate of leadership was elected by the Democratic caucus: Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Minority Whip Katherine Clark (D-MA), and Minority Caucus Chairman Pete Aguilar (D-CA).
The House’s first order of business was to determine a new rules package, which establishes procedures for the next two years and was passed 220-213 on what was almost a party line vote (one Republican member voted no).
One item in the House rules package deserves special attention: a rule change that eliminates the requirement for spending offsets on bills that would sell, transfer or otherwise divest our public lands and waters. Without the need to account for the lost value of our federal lands, the door will be open to misguided legislative proposals that benefit special interests over the American people.
BHA policy points being hand-delivered to senators' offices on Capitol Hill.
BHA strongly opposed this rule change that threatens the integrity of our public estate – lands and waters enjoyed by 70 million hunters and anglers as well as many other outdoor enthusiasts – and we fought to exclude it the final rules package. It’s worth noting that similar language in the House rules package for the 115th Congress was followed by legislative proposals to eliminate federal public lands – efforts that were ultimately abandoned by their proponents after facing tremendous public backlash, including from BHA.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate convened on Jan. 3 to swear in new members then moved to a recess until Jan. 23. Leadership in the Senate is not expected to change as Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) retain their positions. However, committee restructuring will occur as the Democratic caucus gained a definitive majority in the upper chamber. During the 117th Congress with a 50-50 Senate, the majority went to the Democrats with Vice President Kamala Harris as the tiebreaking vote. A power-sharing agreement gave both parties even membership on committees, which were chaired by the Democrats. After the 2022 elections and a balance of 51-49, the Democratic caucus now has an outright majority on the committees in the 118th Congress, likely resulting in more nominations and legislation advancing to the floor.
Now in the coming weeks the chambers will reorganize their committee rosters. Leadership of the following committees is expected to stay the same: the House Natural Resources Committee, led by now Chairman Bruce Westerman (R-AR) and Ranking Member Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ); the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, led by Chairman Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Ranking Member John Barrasso (R-WY); and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, led by Chairman Tom Carper (D-DE) and Ranking Member Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV). The Senate Appropriations Committee will have entirely new leadership under Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) and Ranking Member Susan Collins (R-ME). Meanwhile the House Appropriations Committee will remain under the leadership of now Chairwoman Kay Granger (R-TX) and Ranking Member Rosa DeLauro (D-CT).
BHA’s policy team has already begun reaching out to the new party leaders, committee leadership, freshman members, and other key individuals on Capitol Hill. We delivered a letter welcoming members to the 118th Congress that included background information on BHA and what our members stand for, including a list of our 2023 national and regional policy priorities.
With the 118th Congress underway, we are working to ensure the conservation values of our wild lands, waters, wildlife and the future of our hunting and fishing traditions. Any legislation that did not pass into law before the end of 2022 – and before the end of the 117th Congress – has died and will need to be reintroduced and advanced once again. Bills that we are engaged in can be found in BHA’s action center as well as the contact information for all of your members of Congress.