The U.S. House of Representatives passed a rules package along mostly party lines on January 9, with a final vote of 220-213. The rules package lays out policies by which Republicans will run the chamber in the coming Congress and foreshadows future funding fights that will likely erupt between the Republican-controlled House and the Democrat-controlled Senate as Congress works to advance must-pass legislation, including a fiscal year (FY) 2024 appropriations bill and a measure to raise the country’s debt limit.
While much attention has been paid to a rule allowing a single member of Congress to force a vote to oust the House Speaker, several other provisions were included in the package that will make it significantly more difficult to enact legislation to increase direct spending or increase revenues via tax increases. The rules package blocks the House from considering legislation that would increase mandatory spending, which includes spending on vital programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Social Security, and Medicare. Proposals to increase federal revenues through tax increases would require a supermajority – three-fifths of House members – to vote in favor for the proposal to pass the chamber.
Another rule requires that appropriations bills brought to the House floor go through an open amendments process, and the package reinstates the “Holman rule,” which allows lawmakers to propose amendments to spending bills that would effectively defund specific programs or fire federal officials. Further, the rules package scraps the “Gephardt rule,” which allows the House to automatically raise the debt limit when the Senate adopts a budget resolution, setting up a fight over the debt limit that will likely cause another legislative logjam in Congress.
To secure his position, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) made several backroom deals with far-right members of his party to slash federal funding and appoint members of the far-right House Freedom Caucus to key committee seats. Speaker McCarthy vowed to cap federal spending at FY22 levels, which would result in a federal funding decrease of roughly $130 billion in FY24, including a cut of at least $8.1 billion to HUD. However, such drastic cuts are extremely unlikely to pass the Democrat-controlled Senate, suggesting that a highly contentious FY24 appropriations fight lies ahead.
In addition to enacting an FY24 budget, Congress will need to lift the statutory debt ceiling this year to prevent the federal government from defaulting on its debts, which would have catastrophic consequences not only for HUD’s affordable housing and homelessness programs but for the national and global economies as well. U.S. Department of the Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen noted in an announcement on January 13 that the country’s outstanding debt is expected to reach its statutory limit as soon as January 19 and that the federal government will exhaust its cash reserves, as well as an array of “extraordinary measures” that can be used to keep the government running, by early June.
Speaker McCarthy has already signaled that he will require spending cuts in exchange for agreeing to lift the debt ceiling, while President Biden has said he will only accept a “clean” debt ceiling increase. The standoff increases the risk of a “compromise” of across-the-board cuts and austere, arbitrary spending caps like those enacted under the “Budget Control Act of 2011.”
It is unacceptable for Congress to cut funding to HUD’s and USDA’s affordable housing and homelessness programs or impose needless barriers to decrease access to these programs. There is a national shortage of approximately 7 million affordable, available homes for people with the lowest incomes, and only one in four households who qualify for federal housing assistance receives the help it needs. Without adequate federal funding for vital federal affordable housing and homeless assistance programs, households with the lowest incomes will continue to live precariously, only one missed paycheck or unexpected emergency away from housing instability, eviction, and, in the worst cases, homelessness.
NLIHC and our members, partners, and allies will continue working to advance the policies needed to ensure everyone has a safe, affordable, accessible place to call home and to guard against spending cuts and harmful proposals that would increase barriers to receiving housing assistance for people with the lowest incomes.
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