Members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate returned to Capitol Hill on January 3 to begin the 118th Congress, with Democrats maintaining control of the Senate and Republicans taking control of the House. Vice President Kamala Harris, president of the Senate, presided over the swearing in of 35 newly elected or re-elected senators, while in the House disarray plagued the election of Speaker, delaying the official start of Congress.
Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) was finally elected Speaker of the House and members were sworn in during the early morning hours of January 7, ending a four-day long standoff in which Representative McCarthy struggled to gain the 217 votes needed to secure his position. With a very narrow majority, Speaker McCarthy could only afford to lose four Republican votes, but a faction of approximately 20 far-right lawmakers refused to cast their votes for him to wield the Speaker’s gavel, insisting on major concessions from McCarthy. Representative McCarthy acquiesced.
These concessions include measures that would make it easier to slash funding to vital federal programs and to add harmful amendments to appropriations bills that propose needless barriers to accessing assistance. One such concession includes an agreement to cap all discretionary spending at fiscal year (FY) 2022 levels – a move that would decrease HUD funding by $8.1 billion, at a time when rents are rising at historic rates and more households are struggling to make ends meet.
In addition, Speaker McCarthy committed to moving all 12 FY24 appropriations individually through regular order and allowing an open amendments process on each bill. This change would make it easier for members to add amendments to appropriations bills, including potentially harmful proposals that would increase barriers to receiving federal housing assistance. Another agreement would bring back the “Holman rule,” allowing members to propose amendments to appropriations bills that would cut funding for specific programs to as little as $1, essentially defunding them. The House is expected to vote today (January 9) on a rules package that would formalize these proposals.
The chaos in the House foreshadows what will likely be a very tumultuous year in Congress. With Republicans taking control of the House and Democrats maintaining their hold on the Senate, passing legislation through both chambers will require bipartisan cooperation. Moreover, House Freedom Caucus members are already threatening a potential shutdown later in the year, when Congress will be charged with enacting a new federal budget for FY24 and raising the debt ceiling to avoid a potential financial catastrophe.
While advocates and congressional champions in the previous congress were able to secure meaningful increases to HUD’s vital affordable housing and homelessness programs in the final FY23 budget (see NLIHC’s full analysis and our updated budget chart), far more resources are needed to address the nation’s growing affordable housing and homelessness crises. 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 receive the help they need. 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.
Cutting funding to HUD’s and USDA’s affordable housing and homelessness programs or imposing needless barriers to decrease access to these programs is unacceptable. 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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