The American people sent a message last November: they want to change the way Washington works. Starting today, we will see if their message has been heard. A new Congress will be sworn in in Washington. With a change in leadership in the House, and dozens of new tea party Representatives and Senators being sworn in, expectations are high. How many votes will there be to repeal Obamacare? How much spending will be cut? Will federal deficits be cut – or eliminated? Today is the day that we will begin to find out.
In the House, today’s session will begin at noon. The Clerk will call the House to order, lead the House in the Pledge of Allegiance, and then establish that a quorum is present (requiring at least 218 newly-elected Members). After that the House will proceed with nomination of candidates for Speaker (there will be at least 3), and the election of the new Speaker. If all goes as expected, Minority Leader Pelosi will present Speaker Boehner, and congratulate him on his ascension. (This is all expected to happen between noon and 2:00PM Eastern.)
The Dean of the House — John Dingell — is expected to administer the oath to Mr. Boehner. Then Boehner will administer the oath of office to the rest of the House, and the body will go on to debate and adopt a rules package and committee assignments.
Incoming House Speaker John Boehner has announced that the opening of the new Congress will be live-streamed on Facebook. Click here – beginning at noon, Eastern – to watch the proceedings. A complete guide to the first day of a new Congress in the House has been prepared by the Congressional Research Service. You can find it here.
The Senate will also convene today. There, the focus will immediately be on a potential change to the rules of the filibuster. This rule change is intended to make it easier to pass controversial legislation, but the Senate leadership would be overturning decades of precedent if they make this change. That’s because in contrast to the House of Representatives, the Senate is a ‘continuing body,’ according to the Senate’s own home page. Some Senators believe that the filibuster rule can be changed with a simple majority vote — because the Senate is not a continuing body, and can adopt new rules at the start of each Congress. Precedent and tradition (and the Senate’s own home page) say that to change the rules requires a two-thirds vote.
This dispute will likely continue for weeks. If the Senate leadership – likely with the help of Senate President Joe Biden – changes rules against precedent, it may be impossible for the Senate to conduct business normally.
For more on the proceedings in the Senate, click here.