Analysis by Energy Workforce SVP Government Affairs Tim Tarpley
At time of writing on Wednesday, the situation in the U.S. House of Representatives continues to unravel. Rep. Kevin McCarthy has been unable to gather the 218 votes needed to become Speaker. A path out of the scenario, which hasn’t happened for more than 100 years, remains elusive.
Without a Speaker of the House, members cannot formally be sworn in and the work of the body cannot begin. As of the vote taken Tuesday night, McCarthy had 20 members voting against him to become Speaker. He can only afford to lose four members, so he currently falls significantly short of the threshold needed to become Speaker.
As of Wednesday morning, McCarthy has named five members of the House to act as his emissaries and to continue the negotiating process with the 20 hold outs. If the hold outs do not move, after perhaps another day or two of failed votes, there are two likely options left: Republicans could cut a deal with Democrats on a power-sharing agreement of some sort and ask them to send over enough votes to counteract the 20 hold outs or to look to a compromise candidate that could garner 218 from the Republican caucus.
Both options are fraught with pitfalls however, because it appears unlikely that the Democratic caucus will be willing to take such an action that would elevate McCarthy to the Speakership and a compromise candidate amenable to both the 20 hold outs as well as the rest of the Republican caucus has yet to be identified.
Beyond the interesting palace intrigue, the situation is important to our sector in that it gives us a clear view of what we can expect from the 118th Congress. Given the divided nature of the government, there was hope that the House could act as a check and balance against some of the more aggressive actions taken by the Biden Administration against our sector, such as the potential upcoming SEC ESG rules, government contractor ESG rules and methane regulations.
We will also be relying on the House to use its oversight authority to ensure that agencies follow the law and that lease sales for federal lands and waters occur on time and in the manner they have been directed. With a Congress that appears to be so divided and dysfunctional, and unable even to pick a leader, confidence in its ability to coordinate and work together on such goals comes into question.
However, the process is still ongoing, things could change quickly and a compromise could be reached within the Republican caucus in the next few days. If that occurs, we may see the caucus fall in line and begin work on many of the issues important to our sector. Should this not occur however, and the deadlock continue for days or even weeks, or if they are forced to pick a compromise coalition candidate or power-sharing agreement with the Democrats, we can expect a much weaker House majority and for our purposes a body that is much weaker and less likely to act as a check on actions by the Administration.
Some Congressional members have floated the idea of a power-sharing agreement with Democrats on committee ratios and other procedural advantages given to the minority. While that may be one solution for McCarthy, it’s important for us to remember that such a solution would make it less likely for substantial legislation (and oversight) to come out of the committee structure, which is critical to the work of the House. There may end up not being another option available however, so a weakened House is probably better than no functioning House at all. The next few days will be critical in determining the legislative climate for our sector in the next two years.
Tim Tarpley, SVP Government Affairs & Counsel, analyzes federal policy for the Energy Workforce & Technology Council. Click here to subscribe to the Energy Workforce newsletter, which highlights sector-specific issues, best practices, activities and more.