116th Congress Convenes

The 116th Congress convened last Thursday afternoon with Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) winning her bid for a second stint as Speaker of the House. Under the new Democratic majority, the House passed a pair of Senate-passed bills to fund through September 30 all departments and agencies closed in the partial shutdown, with the exception of the Department of Homeland Security, which would be funded through February 8. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) didn’t bring the bills to Senate floor, however, absent the President’s support for legislation that doesn’t include $5 billion to build a border wall.

The standoff continued throughout the week with the President delivering an Oval Office address on Tuesday evening on the need for a wall followed by a rebuttal from Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Schumer (D-NY). The pair, with Republican leadership, went to the White House on Wednesday afternoon for what ended up being a brief meeting with the President that did not yield any progress. Today, the President visits the southern border to again make the case for a wall.

Funding Bills

In the meantime, House leaders are bringing four separate funding bills (Financial Services, Agriculture, Interior, and Transportation-Housing Urban Development) to the floor that largely mirror Senate-passed legislation. The Financial Services bill passed last night 240-188, drawing eight Republicans. The House takes up the Agriculture and Interior bills today. The President has threatened to veto them.

On the other side of the Capitol, Senate Democrats are likely to block all legislation unrelated to ending the government shutdown; on Tuesday evening, a motion to proceed to Middle East policy legislation failed.

Subcommittee Leadership

With the Senate Republican conference ratifying committee leaders for the 116th Congress, subcommittee leadership is beginning to take shape. The Senate Appropriations Committee announced on Wednesday that Senator John Kennedy (R-LA) will chair the Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, which has jurisdiction over the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission. He replaces Senator Lankford (R-OK), who relinquished his subcommittee gavel to take a seat on the Senate Finance Committee. Senator Coons (D-DE) is the ranking member. On the House side, Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) announced that Reps. Barragan (D-CA), Blunt Rochester (D-DE), Kelly (D-IL), Kuster (D-NH), McEachin (D-VA), O’Halleran (D-AZ), Soto (D-FL), and Veasey (D-TX) will join the Energy and Commerce Committee.

Connect America Fund Accountability Act

Elsewhere, Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), the new ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, introduced legislation today targeting FCC broadband subsidies distributed through the Connect America Fund (CAF). The Connect America Fund Accountability Act increases reporting requirements for providers that receive CAF funds based on complaints that rural areas are not experiencing speeds that providers are reporting. Collins also plans to reintroduce the Gigabit Opportunity Act to create tax incentives for investing in broadband in low-income areas.

Read more in our Emerging Technologies Washington Update