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The Early 202

An essential morning newsletter briefing for leaders in the nation’s capital.

McCarthy’s concessions are giving House Republicans angst

The Early 202

An essential morning newsletter briefing for leaders in the nation’s capital.

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In today’s editionPoll Watch: What Americans love and hate about Republicans’ plans in Congress … Democrats try again for big investment in elder care … What we’re watching: A freewheeling House floor debate? … Biden vowed to punish the Saudis over an oil cut, but that's no longer the plan … but first …

On the Hill

McCarthy’s concessions are giving House Republicans angst

Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) made a lot of promises to become House speaker. 

Republicans knew he was giving up a lot, and some of those concessions are already causing problems for the House GOP. Three of the 11 bills House Republican leaders promised would go straight to the floor to kick off the year have been pulled back because of opposition within the party — a sign of the growing pains of a new majority.

Let’s take a look at the promises and the problems:

McCarthy concession: A vote on the “fair tax”

McCarthy promised action on the “fair tax,” a decades-old idea resurfaced by Rep. Earl L. “Buddy” Carter (R-Ga.) that would do away with all federal taxes except for a hefty sales tax and abolish the IRS

Previous iterations went nowhere for a reason: It’s wildly unpopular, and most analysts say it would hit lower-income and middle-class Americans the hardest. 

GOP second thoughts: Many Republicans aren’t on board. McCarthy himself suggested on Tuesday that he doesn’t support the bill. 

Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) said that while she loves the idea of a consumption tax, she was concerned that the fair tax and other legislation that conservatives have pressed McCarthy to bring to the floor will show up in Democratic campaign ads next year.

“They’re not going to go anywhere in the Senate, and they certainly aren’t votes that people in swing districts should be taking,” she said.

Democrats think they've hit the jackpot. 

“It will impose a tax hike that is dramatic on 90 percent of the American people, working families, middle-class folks, seniors, and those who aspire to be part of the middle class, the poor, the sick and the afflicted,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday at a news conference with House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.).

Schumer has hit Republicans on the fair tax every day this week. President Biden said Tuesday that he’s thrilled to talk about it, and he’s expected to bring it up again in a speech in Virginia today.

Carter, who introduced the national sales tax bill, told The Early that he was sure Democrats would run ads against it but that it was an idea whose time had come.

“These are big boys up here and big girls,” Carter said, referring to his colleagues. “They’ll be fine.”

McCarthy’s concession: A vote on a hard-line border security bill

Strengthening border security is a priority of Republicans, and Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.) pushed for a vote on his border bill as McCarthy sought his support for speaker.

GOP second thoughts: As we reported this week with our colleague Marianna Sotomayor, the bill doesn’t have the votes. Some Republicans don’t like the asylum components, others want it to go through the committee process, and others think it is bad optics for Republicans to focus only on border security and ignore immigration policies. 

Voting on the border security bill and the sales tax bill in their current form would be “bad policy and bad politics,” said Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), who said Friday that he had received a commitment from McCarthy’s aides that the border security bill would through committee.

Roy disputed his bill would necessarily return to committee.

“Well over 210 of our colleagues in the Republican conference very much support it,” Roy told Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, on Perkins’s radio show Wednesday. “There are a handful raising questions. I’m answering their questions. I’m happy to meet with any of them anywhere anytime.”

False start: A pair of pro-police bills

Republicans promised to show their support for police officers during the campaign as they tried to paint Democrats as hostile toward local law enforcement

GOP second thoughts: But during their first week of legislative work this month, Republican leaders had to remove a pair of pro-police bills from the floor — one that would require prosecutors to show the number of cases they don’t prosecute and another that would express support for law enforcement — because some members wanted changes. 

Now, the bills will go to the Rules Committee once it is up and running to make changes before they’re brought to the floor, according to a spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) 

Kicking Omar off foreign affairs panel

Booting Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) from the Foreign Affairs Committee wasn’t a McCarthy concession — but it was a long-standing promise should he become speaker. 

GOP second thoughts: Reps. Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.) indicated she won’t vote to kick Omar off the committee and said she needs to see the text of the resolution before she decides. Republican leadership, at a closed-door meeting Wednesday, went through a list of things Omar has said about Israel to shore up support for the measure, Marianna reports.

“It was definitely a threatening message to members,” said one lawmaker in the room.

Bacon, who said earlier in the week that he was undecided, told reporters on Wednesday that he would vote to remove Omar, citing her past comments, which he described as anti-Semitic.

Poll Watch

What Americans love and hate about Republicans’ plans in Congress

From Post polling analyst Emily Guskin: The Republican majority in the House is turning to its governing priorities, which include investigating Democrats, cutting spending and increasing border security. But while some of these have majority support from Americans, others fall far short.

First, some popular plans:

House Republicans prioritized passing legislation to turn away more migrants at the border, although there is internal sparring over exactly what they will try to pass. 

  • A 66 percent majority of Americans supported Congress increasing border security in general, according to an Economist/YouGov poll released Wednesday. That includes 9 in 10 Republicans and slimmer majorities of independents (56 percent) and Democrats (53 percent).

Earlier in January, House Republicans commissioned a special investigative panel on the coronavirus to press scientists and federal officials about the origin of the virus and the government’s response. 

  • 61 percent of Americans support an investigation into the origins of covid-19 and the government’s response, including about three-quarters of Republicans and over half of Democrats and independents, according to Economist/YouGov.

House Republicans also pledged to investigate Hunter Biden’s business dealings and art sales.

  • The Economist/YouGov poll found a slim 51 percent overall in support of investigating Hunter Biden, including 85 percent of Republicans and just under a quarter of Democrats (24 percent). 

Other House Republican ideas are less popular:

  • In a pledge to cut spending, House Republicans have considered proposals targeting Social Security, Medicare and other programs, something that is deeply unpopular. Just 17 percent of Americans in the Economist/YouGov poll said they supported Congress reducing spending on Social Security and Medicare; 70 percent opposed this. A meager 22 percent of Republicans supported cutting Social Security and Medicare spending, along with even fewer Democrats and independents.
  • The first major bill Republicans passed after taking the majority was to strip about $71 billion from the Internal Revenue Service, funds that Congress approved last year to find and pursue tax cheats. The Economist/YouGov poll found 45 percent of Americans in support of reducing funding to the IRS, including a 69 percent majority of Republicans and fewer than half of independents (42 percent) and Democrats (24 percent).
  • House Republicans have also pledged to investigate the spending of the House select committee that investigated the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. While there is no polling on support for an investigation of the investigation, Americans largely supported the investigation into the insurrection: 69 percent said it was important in a December Fox News poll, including majorities of Democrats (94 percent) and independents (71 percent) and more than 4 in 10 Republicans (45 percent).

Republicans have other priorities, from blocking future Democratic bills to investigating the withdrawal from Afghanistan — but there is not yet reliable polling data on these goals. It’s unclear whether Republicans will move forward with two other ideas some of them want to pursue — impeaching Biden and imposing national restrictions on abortion access — both of which the Economist/YouGov poll found were unpopular.

On the Hill

Democrats try again for big investment in elder care

Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) and Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) are reintroducing a bill today to expand home-based care for the elderly and disabled. 

The bill, shared with The Early ahead of its release, aims to address a critical need for an aging population, with wait lists in most states for home health-care support and a lack of home health workers. 

“The current American reality is, if you’re a senior, you want skilled care, the only option is in a nursing home,” Casey, who chairs the Senate Aging Committee, said in an interview. “For those who don't want that option, or want a different option and would prefer to stay home, we ought to provide that opportunity.”

More than 650,000 people are on waiting lists in 37 states for home-based health-care services, waiting an average of nearly four years to receive home care, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Texas has the longest waiting list by far, followed by Florida. 

  • The need for more services will grow as the population ages. The percentage of people aged 65 or older were 16 percent of the population in 2019. That number will jump to more than 21 percent by 2040.

The bill would incentivize states to expand Medicaid to reduce the waiting list and provide more resources for people who want to age at home. It would also aim to shore up the workforce by providing higher pay for home health aides, who make an average of $12 per hour. 

“We’re in a moment where labor markets are tight as they are; we’re losing workers so quickly from this workforce,” said Ai-jen Poo, executive director of Caring Across Generations.

A previous iteration was part of Democrats’ Build Back Better plan in 2021 but was dropped along with other care economy provisions because it lacked the votes to pass.

It’s not a cheap venture, costing upward of $300 billion, and it will be even more difficult to pass in a divided Congress as Republicans look to shrink government.

(Leigh Ann spoke with actor Seth Rogen and his wife, Lauren Miller Rogen, about this issue for Washington Post Live last year. Their organization, Hilarity for Charity, helps families caring for aging members, especially those with Alzheimer’s. The Rogens met with Casey about the issue last year.)

What we're watching

Keep an eye on the House floor. 

Tonight, the House will take up a bill under a rule that would allow a vote on any amendment so long as it was submitted for printing in the Congressional Record before today. 

It’s the first time this type of freewheeling process will be allowed on the floor since May 2016 and the first time since 2013 that it will happen on a non-appropriations bill, according to a senior Republican aide on the Rules Committee.

McCarthy promised a more inclusive process, but the House is out of practice on conducting this type of legislating as leaders in both parties have sought tighter control in recent years on what amendments could come up for a floor vote. Lawmakers and aides in both parties are eagerly watching to see how it plays out, including what amendments are offered and how long it takes.

Democratic leaders are imploring their members to stay in line. Their message: It is not the time to try to improve a bill that won’t pass the Senate, but it is an opportunity to force Republicans to take politically difficult votes, Democratic aides and lawmakers said.

The campaign: Republican National Committee members will vote on the organization’s next leader tomorrow in what is expected to be a new direction for the party. Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel is in a bitter fight with Harmeet Dhillon, an RNC committeewoman from California, for a fourth term. MyPillow chief executive Mike Lindell is also running. 

  • All of the candidates have ties to former president Donald Trump, but it’s the strength of those ties that’s on the ballot Friday as Republicans across the country seek to lick their wounds following a disappointing performance in the midterms.

At the White House

Biden vowed to punish Saudis over oil cut. That’s no longer the plan.

Pump the brakes: “Months after the White House vowed to punish Saudi Arabia for cutting oil output in defiance of American wishes, the Biden administration has ended its talk of retaliation against the Persian Gulf kingdom, emphasizing the two countries’ long-standing security ties and Riyadh’s steps to back Washington’s priorities in Yemen and Ukraine,” our colleague Missy Ryan reports.

  • “Officials instead point to congressional measures seeking to limit future defense cooperation as a chief repercussion for the OPEC Plus cartel’s production decision in October, which the administration viewed as a potential boon for Russia’s war in Ukraine and a political blow to Biden ahead of last year’s midterm elections. The about-face underscores the dearth of palatable options available to U.S. policymakers amid intensifying competition with Russia and China playing out in the Middle East and beyond.”

The Media

Early reads

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