On January 3, 2023, the 118th Congress was sworn in. While Democrats maintained and even improved upon their lead in the Senate, they did narrowly lose the House to Republicans — something that was expected, but by a smaller margin than most were anticipating. The House currently stands at 222 seats for Republicans and 212 seats for Democrats, with one seat still up for grabs in Virginia’s 4th congressional district after its incumbent, Donald McEachin, passed away on November 28, 2022. A special election for the seat is slated for February 21, 2023.
With Republicans taking control of the House a few days ago, it gave Democrats one final opportunity to pass legislation during the lame-duck session: the period after a new Congress has been elected but before their term begins. What did they race to get done in that two-month period?
On December 8, 2022, the House voted to advance the Senate’s version of the Respect for Marriage Act, ensuring it would go to President Biden’s desk to be signed into law. Biden signed the Respect for Marriage Act into law days later on Dec. 13. The landmark law guarantees federal and state recognition of same-sex and interracial marriages, and while it does not guarantee that all states must recognize these marriages if, say, Obergefell v. Hodges were overturned by the Supreme Court, it does require states to recognize marriages performed in other states or marriages that already exist.
The other piece of legislation that has been passed is the nearly $2 trillion spending bill to fund the government up through September of this year. Inside the massive spending bill are numerous provisions and priorities from both parties, including reforms to the Electoral Count Act of 1887. The reforms are a direct response to the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection, and clarifies that the Vice President does not have the authority to block certification of an election — a maneuver Trump tried to pressure Pence to do in the weeks following the 2020 presidential election. It also will now require at least 20 percent of members from each chamber to challenge a state’s electoral results, when previously all it took was one representative and one senator.
Inside the spending package are billions of dollars allocated for aid to Ukraine, and for response to natural disasters such as wildfires, hurricanes and flooding. A whopping $858 billion in defense spending was included, notably an all-time record and billions more than what Biden had requested, with the remaining $772 billion allocated to domestic spending and funding for domestic programs.
It is the last time for at least two years that Democrats will have uniform control of the legislative branch, and with split control tends to come gridlock. Congress has been unusually bipartisan with the passage of several blockbuster bills in the past year — the infrastructure bill, the CHIPS Act, the Respect for Marriage Act and now the government funding bill. Will we see the same in the next Congress that was just sworn in?
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