After all the drama last week in Congress concerning the election of Rep. Kevin McCarthy as House speaker, the California Republican was finally voted into the role he so desired. McCarthy's first orders of business: getting new rules approved and rescinding funding for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
After 15 rounds of voting last week, McCarthy finally secured enough support on Saturday to take the House's top leadership role. Ultimately, McCarthy wound up with 216 votes in his favor (with New York Democratic Rep. Hakeem Jeffries getting 212 votes and six lawmakers, all Republicans, voting present.)
His win happened after some GOP "never Kevins"—including vocal McCarthy opponents Reps. Matt Gaetz (Fla.), Lauren Boebert (Colo.), Bob Good (Va.), and Andy Biggs (Ariz.)—compromised by voting present instead of no. Meanwhile, other Republicans who had been holding out were seemingly swayed by pressure from McCarthy and other colleagues plus more compromises on the House Republican rules package, which will be up for consideration today.
House Republican rules package:
—1 member can force vote to overthrow Speaker
—changes PAYGO to CUTGO
—constrains debt limit end-runs
—3/5ths vote to raises tax rates
—allows 2-min votes
—72-hrs for bills
—EdLabor —> Education & Workforce
—new COVID select cmte
— Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) January 7, 2023
Some of the process changes in the new rules seem to be undoubtedly good. For instance, the rules would require a three-fifths vote for any federal income tax rate increases and say lawmakers must have at least 72 hours to look over a bill before it's voted upon.
In addition, "House Republicans plan to make it much more difficult to win earmarks," notes The New York Times. "They also intend to make it much easier to cut spending and to force offsets in spending elsewhere to compensate for increases, a plan certain to encounter resistance from Democrats. And they want to couple any increase in the federal debt limit with corresponding federal spending cuts."
McCarthy is at least off to a good start, saying the first bill to be taken up is one that would repeal a massive funding boost for the IRS that was passed as part of the Inflation Reduction Act. This was already on McCarthy's agenda and not solely part of his deal-cutting with GOP holdouts.
Speaker McCarthy: "Our very first bill will repeal the funding for 87,000 new IRS agents." pic.twitter.com/nliLLxraC2
— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) January 7, 2023
It's also listed in the proposed rules package as one of seven bills that would be required to be brought up for a vote. These include:
(1) The bill (H.R. 23) to rescind certain balances made available to the Internal Revenue Service.
(2) The bill (H.R. 29) to authorize the Secretary of Homeland Security to suspend the entry of aliens, and for other purposes.
(3) The bill (H.R. 22) to prohibit the Secretary of Energy from sending petroleum products from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to China, and for other purposes.
(4) The bill (H.R. 27) to amend the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act to direct district attorney and prosecutors offices to report to the Attorney General, and for other purposes.
(5) The bill (H.R. 28) to require the national instant criminal background check system to notify U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the relevant State and local law enforcement agencies whenever the information available to the system indicates that a person illegally or unlawfully in the United States may be attempting to receive a firearm.
(6) The bill (H.R. 7) to prohibit taxpayer funded abortions.
(7) The bill (H.R. 26) to amend title 18,7 United States Code, to prohibit a health care practitioner from failing to exercise the proper degree of care in the case of a child who survives an abortion or attempted abortion.
Clearly, Republicans don't plan to drop panic-mongering about crime, immigrants, and abortion anytime soon.
But overall, the proposed rules suggest something of a return to focusing on fiscal issues.
Ross Douthat suggests "the Republican Party that existed before Donald Trump came along" and "the days of John Boehner battling Tea Party rebels over the debt ceiling or the fiscal cliff" are now back—for better or worse:
The failure of the "red wave" in the 2022 midterms and Trump's subsequent diminishment have had a reverse-wave effect: It's like watching a wall of water roll backward, exposing the old coastline, the political topography that the water covered up. Kevin McCarthy's embarrassing struggle to claim the speakership, and the week of chaos in the House of Representatives, don't properly belong to the Trump era. It's the old world come again, the G.O.P. ancien regime with all its dysfunctions, stalemates and futility.
Not that the flood didn't change the landscape. Some of the House Republicans who have bedeviled McCarthy are Tea Party throwbacks, but others are more Trumpian figures, creatures of right-wing celebrity and brands unto themselves. The would-be Republican populists in the Senate, figures like J.D. Vance, Josh Hawley and Tom Cotton, aren't libertarians in the style of circa-2013 Ted Cruz, which may change the role the Senate plays in intra-Republican battles. The national party and its ambitious governors are now more likely to be fighting over cultural issues than fiscal ones. And Trump himself is hardly finished.
But in the negotiations over the speakership, it's been clear that certain pre-Trump patterns are still resilient.
Of course, with a Democrat-controlled Senate, there's little House Republicans can realistically do to drive a successful legislative agenda. But they can serve as a check on measures that easily clear the Senate.
More documents revealed as part of Louisiana and Missouri's lawsuit against the Biden administration show officials pressuring Facebook and Twitter to remove particular content:
— Attorney General Andrew Bailey (@AGAndrewBailey) January 7, 2023
The lawsuit, filed last May by Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry and then-Attorney General for Missouri Eric Schmitt, alleges that the Biden administration pressured Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook to "censor and suppress free speech, including truthful information, related to COVID-19, election integrity and other topics, under the guises of combating 'misinformation.'"
Part of the debate around this issue has centered on the fact that officials didn't necessarily demand the takedown of objected-to content (and the social media companies certainly didn't always comply). Merely flagging content the government objects to without further action isn't a First Amendment violation.
But it's part of a worrying pattern of pressure on these companies, something the Cato Institute refers to as "jawboning":
Government officials can use informal pressure — bullying, threatening, and cajoling — to sway the decisions of private platforms and limit the publication of disfavored speech. The use of this informal pressure, known as jawboning, is growing. Left unchecked, it threatens to become normalized as an extraconstitutional method of speech regulation. While courts have censured jawboning in other contexts, existing judicial remedies struggle to address social media jawboning. Amid the opacity and scale of social media moderation, government influence is difficult to detect or prevent. Ultimately, congressional rulemaking and the people's selection of liberal, temperate officials remain the only reliable checks on this novel threat to free speech.
As we've been saying at Reason for a long time, seemingly polite or low-pressure content repression requests from government officials take on new meaning when you consider the totality of the circumstances. The Trump and Biden administrations are constantly issuing orders and proposed rules that would be bad for social media companies. Lawmakers keep introducing anti-tech bills, as congressional committees keep calling tech company CEOs before them to testify. And the Department of Justice has filed a number of lawsuits against social media platforms.
Looked at through a holistic lens, "requests" like those flags Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey pointed out above don't seem quite so benign.
Appeals court to reconsider ban on nonviolent felon gun ownership. Good news: "A federal appeals court on Friday said it would reconsider next month whether a federal law prohibiting nonviolent felons from owning firearms is constitutional in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision last year expanding gun rights," reports Reuters. More:
• This month, the entire 5th Circuit Court of Appeals will hear a case concerning Priscilla Villarreal—a.k.a. La Gordiloca—and her lawsuit against Laredo, Texas, police. Villarreal was arrested (and later cleared) for posting about police activities on social media. More backstory from Reason here, here, and here.
• The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued a controversial recommendation related to childhood obesity. In its first guidance on childhood obesity in 15 years, the group recommends anti-obesity drugs for children as young as age 12 and surgery for those as young as age 13.
• Season 2 of HBO's The Vow, a documentary series about the group NXIVM and its now-behind-bars leader Keith Raniere, fails to resolve "the legal and philosophical questions of what constitutes coercion as opposed to voluntary (if deeply self-destructive) adult choices and what kinds of group-mediated control should be criminal in a liberal society," writes Ross Douthat.
• When occupational licensing becomes a form of censorship
Start your day with Reason. Get a daily brief of the most important stories and trends every weekday morning when you subscribe to Reason Roundup.