With almost all the election results in, Republicans will maintain majority control of the 2017 House of Representatives in the November 8 election. They only lost six seats to Democrats, making for a 238-193 split in the 435-member chamber of Congress (with four races remaining uncalled a week out).
Democrats would have needed to gain 30 seats in the House to take over control, and nobody really expected that to happen. Their gain was on the lower end of the projected range of five to 20 seats gained.
What GOP majority rule means for the conservative agenda
Along with voting on any pieces of legislation that the Senate votes on, the House has the unique role of originating legislation that has to do with how the government collects taxes and spends public money.
We can expect to see some conservative budget legislation get passed – think: reduced spending on government programs and lower corporate tax rates – although exactly what that’ll look like is a big question, given differences within the Republican Party itself.
The level of in-fighting among the GOP ranks was thrown into pretty stark relief by the surprising candidacy and win of the party’s nominee, Donald Trump, who is ultra-conservative on certain issues, like immigration and the admittance of Syrian refugees, and moderate- to left-leaning on other issues, like free trade.
But the tension within the party isn’t just between the president-elect and members of Congress; the House contains divisions as well, most clearly between House Speaker Paul Ryan-style Repubs who are more willing to compromise across the aisle to get legislation passed and those of the House Freedom Caucus variety, hard-lined conservatives who are willing to block a budget decision, thereby shutting the government down if certain of their goals, such as repealing Obamacare or ending funding of Planned Parenthood, are not met.
There are currently 40 members of the House Freedom Caucus. If these folks resist the type of legislation that Ryan and his like-minded lawmakers want to push through in the House, this would mean that Ryan would need to appeal to Dems to get a majority to vote to pass bills and resolutions.
What GOP control means for the Dems
In-fighting within the GOP might be House Democrats’ only real shot at influencing legislation in the House. That’s because the chamber is structured to pretty severely limit the power of the minority party.
The Speaker of the House, along with the Senate Majority Leader (also Republican), decide on which legislation the House will vote. Currently, Ryan serves as Speaker and it appears, at least at this early point, that he will remain in the position. (He hasn’t been popular with either Trump or the Freedom Caucus, but they’re indicating initial willingness to play nice.)
The Rules Committee will also have a lot of power, with a nine-to-four Republican advantage, It’s responsible for proposing the conditions upon which legislation is debated in the House – how long it can be debated and whether or not amendments will be allowed, specifically. If it recommends no amendments and the House majority votes to agree to that rule, it cuts out a channel for Dems to squeeze bits of their agenda into Republican-shaped legislation.
Snapshot: Tax plan
Let’s consider what we might expect, given the above, for efforts to reform tax policy in 2017.
Trump’s tax proposal and the GOP’s official proposal, supported by Ryan and entitled “Better Way,” differ in a few ways, though the core of reduced taxes is consistent between the two. Basically, both want to reduce both income and corporate taxes. But Trump wants to reduce rates by a greater margin.
On the other hand, the GOP wants to stop taxing corporations on income they earn abroad, while Trump wants to make it easier for the government to collect taxes on that income. As for the Freedom Caucus, they’re into Trump’s proposal as they are big fans of big tax cuts(though not of big government spending, which is also part of Trump’s overall plan – but they’re pushing that aside for now).
Basically, if the Republicans can cooperate and advance a plan most of them will get behind, Dems won’t be left with much recourse to shape tax reform legislation in the House where it originates. And the Republican Party – from the Speaker to the president-elect to the members of Congress – are under pressure to unite and take advantage of the fact that they control the whole government now.
The Republican-led majorities in both the House and Senate, in addition to a Republican president-elect, means we can definitely expect the advancement of a conservative agenda. In terms of the House, that could mean reduced spending and lower taxes across the board, but especially for corporations. If the GOP doesn’t get its poop in a group (ideologically speaking) and unite, however, House Dems may be called upon to reach majority votes, giving them a bit of sway.