American Horse Council: Control split as 112th Congress convenes
January 21, 2011
The 112th Congress convened in early January facing many of the same issues left over from the last Congress. But they may remain on the table as the emphasis in this Congress will be on cutting government programs and spending, reducing the deficit and debt, and spurring job growth. The House of Representatives has shifted to Republican control. Democrats still control the Senate, but the majority is smaller. More than 100 new members have taken their seats in the House and Senate, nearly a 20 percent turnover.
“Issues important to the horse industry will be on the table. Comprehensive immigration reform, Internet wagering, tax reform, animal welfare, trails legislation, equine health and the farm bill are important to the equine community,” noted Jay Hickey, president of the American Horse Council, which represents the horse industry in Washington. “Overriding all debate, however, is how existing programs can be paid for and whether new programs can be initiated in a Congress that will be focused on reducing spending and the size of government.”
Under new House rules, any federal program, whether existing or new, involving spending increases must be offset by cuts of an equal amount in another program. The program cannot be funded by tax increases. “In addition, Congress will be looking for ways to raise much-needed revenue. The horse industry must be vigilant to ensure that such revenue is not raised unfairly at its expense,” Hickey said.
In what’s been called a “wave” election by many, and a “shellacking” by President Obama, the Republicans gained control of the House in the November elections, picking up 63 seats. Ninety-six new members are in the House freshman class, only nine of whom are Democrats. The ratio is 242 Republicans and 193 Democrats.
In the Senate, Republicans gained seven seats, leaving the Democrats in control, but with less of a cushion. The Senate now includes 53 Democrats and 47 Republicans, with 16 new Members. Neither party is close enough to the 60 votes needed to stop a filibuster under Senate procedures and force through controversial legislation; but the Senate is considering revising the filibuster rules and that may make it easier to get bills to the floor.
There are new leaders in the House. John Boehner (R-OH) has been elected Speaker of the House. Eric Cantor (R-VA) is the new Majority Leader. Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is now the Minority Leader and Steny Hoyer (D-MD) the Minority Whip. Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) will remain as Senate Majority Leader and Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) remains Minority Leader.
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With the Republican takeover of the House, the chairmanships of all the House Committees have passed to Republicans from Democrats. The makeup of the House Committees has also changed with Republicans having many more seats on each committee. This will make it easier for Republicans to pass legislation in the House. But the Senate is still controlled by Democrats and getting some House bills through the Senate will still be difficult. Then there is always the final backstop of a Presidential veto. So there’s no clear sailing for Republicans. While Republicans have made strong gains, bi-partisanship and compromise will be necessary to get any bills actually passed into law.
A fundamental question to be answered by the new Congress is whether the bi-partisan cooperation exhibited in the recently-concluded lame-duck session of the last Congress will hold for the new Congress. That lame-duck session saw the extension of the Bush-era tax cuts, the reinstatement of the estate tax, the extension of unemployment benefits, the ratification of the nuclear arms treaty with Russia, and the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” But there is precedent for cooperation and compromise when each party controls one chamber. That split control has seemed to clarify the need to work together if anything is to get done.
“Like most industries, the horse industry’s legislative concerns don’t break along partisan lines. The industry must work on a bi-partisan basis with Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle,” said Hickey. “The AHC and the horse industry have been working with Congress for four decades. This is a new Congress with more than 100 new members. The AHC has already called on its Congressional Cavalry to welcome both the new and returning Members of Congress and to explain the importance of the horse industry to the nation’s agricultural, economic, sporting and recreational life.
“The horse industry has a $112 billion affect on the economy and support 1.5 million jobs. Every state has a horse industry. Forty-five states have more than 20,000 horses. The equine community must continue to ensure that the 112th Congress recognizes that,” said Hickey.