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House GOP sees first-week unity among factions

Arkansas congressmen work to build cohesion, coalitions by Alex Thomas | January 18, 2023 at 12:00 a.m.

WASHINGTON -- The Republican-controlled House of Representatives moved forward with unity during its first week of legislating, a stark contrast to the speakership battle at the start of the year that deadlocked the chamber.

House Republicans moved as a front last week to approve the chamber's rules package and pass conservative legislation, including policies to cut funds for hiring Internal Revenue Service agents and ensuring care to infants born after an abortion attempt. Resolutions to create a select committee to investigate America's competitiveness with China and to block oil from petroleum reserves from being sold to China even received bipartisan support.

Republicans additionally took strides in organizing committees, with the naming and approval of chairman seats, including Rep. Bruce Westerman of Hot Springs having the gavel on the House Natural Resources Committee.

"We're on the honeymoon," Rep. Steve Womack of Rogers told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette last week outside the House chamber. "This marriage, if you will, this unity needs to persist for a couple of years. I think it's way too early to determine if this marriage is going to work out."

Five Republican lawmakers announced their opposition to McCarthy after a closed Republican conference vote in November. Rep. French Hill of Little Rock recognized the growth of the anti-McCarthy coalition during the Californian's speech to the Republican conference Jan. 3.

Hill and Westerman were part of the team that worked with McCarthy to secure a successful speaker nomination.

"When you have a narrow majority, it takes extra communication," Hill said in his Capitol Hill office. "We're going to add those voices into the different decision-making bodies. We're going to make a real effort to make sure that we're communicating. That's a way to, I think, prevent misunderstandings going forward and to prepare for the legislative agenda as it starts to go to the committees now."

Rep. Rick Crawford of Jonesboro likened the speaker spat to a familial dispute, acknowledging most people "don't like to open the doors to family squabbles."

"Republicans are noted for being very individualistic and [with] diverse backgrounds," he said. "We have differences of opinion, and sometimes those differences of opinion spill out into the open."

Two issues expected to cause problems for House Republicans involve spending. Conservatives want the next government funding measure to reduce spending to fiscal year 2022 levels. Congress will additionally have to reach a deal on the debt ceiling, with House Republicans wanting to curb spending as part of the solution.

An experienced House Appropriations Committee member, Womack has shared concerns about a possible cut to defense spending. He was one of nine House Republicans who supported the $1.7 trillion spending package at the end of the last Congress, which dedicated $858 billion for defense.

"If you're going to try to get to a [Fiscal Year 2022] budget level after we just ushered in the '23 omnibus, that means that somebody's going to get cut and it's going to be drastic," he said. "When it is, you will lose the other side and, likely, we will have members on our side that won't ever vote for a spending bill."

"I think we just guaranteed that if we do have difficulty moving legislation on our own in the House, we're going to be hopeful the Senate might be able to step in and lead the way," Womack added. "I never thought I would say that as a House member."

Westerman acknowledges the necessity of working with Democrats to pass shared objectives and address some issues.

"I don't want to just pass bills that we can get through a Republican majority on the House side; I want to pass bills that we can put on President Biden's desk," he said. "I will continually work with Democrats here, and Democrats and obviously Republicans in the Senate on those bills we can get bipartisan and bicameral support."

The Senate has been out of session since members took the oath of office Jan. 3, and the House is not in session this week. Senators and House members will resume work in Washington, D.C. next week.

Print Headline: House GOP sees first-week unity among factions

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