Congressional Republicans are pledging oversight of the Biden administration now that they have officially secured control of the House of Representatives for the next two years.
The Republicans will likely hold a narrow majority in the House when the 118th Congress begins in January, while Democrats will still control the Senate and White House. Experts are doubtful that any meaningful legislation will pass during the next two years. However, higher education lobbyists and policy experts expect to see lawsuits challenging student loan forgiveness from the new GOP majority and stepped-up oversight of the U.S. Department of Education with a goal of setting up the Republican Party to win in 2024.
House Republicans held a press conference Thursday about the business dealings of President Biden’s son Hunter. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who is expected to be the next speaker of the House, mentioned a range of possible investigations that they could pursue in an interview with Fox News on Wednesday night after news outlets projected that Republicans would retake the majority in the House.
Representative Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, who is expected to take the gavel in the House Committee on Education and Labor, tweeted one word: “Oversight.”
In interviews and statements, Foxx has made it clear that she thinks Biden’s plan to forgive up to $10,000 in federal student loans for eligible Americans and up to $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients is illegal.
“Republicans will continue fighting this president’s abuse of the executive pen, including his attempt to keep 40 million borrowers in repayment limbo and forcing taxpayers to foot the bill,” Foxx told USA Today. “The department simply cannot continue to kick this can down the road.”
On Thursday, Foxx and Missouri representative Jason Smith, who will lead the House budget committee, told the White House Office of Management and Budget to preserve all documents related to the debt-relief plan.
“It is critical the Biden administration is as transparent as possible with the American people on the projected costs and economic impacts associated with these policies, particularly how such fiscal impacts were taken into consideration as policy specifics were debated and finally determined,” their letter states. “For example, after a full year of raging inflation, without any signs of abating anytime soon, Americans deserve to know if OMB considered how these actions would make inflation worse.”
Foxx has chaired the committee before but would need to receive a waiver from party leadership in order to do so again. House GOP rules limit members to three consecutive terms in committee leadership roles. Some media outlets reported before the election that she might not be successful in receiving a waiver, but several lobbyists expect her to prevail.
House Republicans will have the ability to sue the administration in court over the student loan forgiveness plan, which federal judges have recently put on hold.
But the narrow majority will make governing harder for House Republicans, as the party leadership has to build consensus among a diverse group of representatives and appeal to both the more conservative members as well as the moderates.
“We know the Republicans will be in charge, but what they will be able and want to do is much less certain than I would have anticipated a couple of weeks ago,” said Terry Hartle, senior vice president for government relations and public affairs at the American Council on Education.
Hartle added that McCarthy received 188 votes for speaker of the next Congress, short of the 218 votes he needs on the House floor in January.
“I think he’s likely to become the House speaker, but the conservatives made clear that they’re going to extract a price, and that price might be changes in caucus rules that would complicate lives considerably for newly elected moderate Republicans,” Hartle said.
Hartle said significant action on major pieces of legislation is unlikely.
“But we will see a lot of hearings and investigations to address issues that House Republicans are concerned about,” he added.
House and Senate Republicans have been vocal in their opposition the department’s overhaul of regulations regarding Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which were introduced over the summer and would change how colleges investigate reports of sexual assault and expand protections for LGBTQ+ students. The expansion of sex-based discrimination and harassment to include harassment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity was a controversial change in the proposed regulations, and one that attracted thousands of comments in opposition.
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona has said the department will propose a separate set of regulations governing transgender students’ involvement in athletics.
Several Republican candidates have talked about the changes in campaign ads and speeches. The House Republicans’ campaign platform includes “ensuring that only women can compete in women’s sports.”
Meanwhile, higher education associations would like to see Congress address graduate student loan interest rates, double the Pell Grant, establish Pell Grants for short-term training programs and reauthorize the Higher Education Act of 1965, among other legislative priorities.
“We will be watching, as well as every other industry with Washington representation, to see what the Republicans will do once they formally take control in January,” Hartle said.
Hartle said representatives of House Republicans met with higher education associations on Election Day to hear about their priorities. At that meeting, congressional Republicans were expecting a “red wave” to carry them into the majority.
“They are recalibrating what they think they can and want to do, in light of a smaller majority than they anticipated having,” he said.
Other Leadership Moves
Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Thursday that she will not be seeking another term as the top House Democratic leader, paving the way for a new generation of Democratic leaders. Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York will likely be the minority leader.
On the Senate side, Independent senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who caucuses with Democrats, is planning to chair the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, a spokesman said Thursday. Washington senator Patty Murray, the committee’s current chairwoman, is moving to a leadership role on the Senate Appropriations Committee.
“As chairman of the committee, he will focus on universal health care, lowering the cost of prescription drugs, increasing access to higher education and protecting workers’ rights on the job,” a spokesman told reporters.
Republican senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana will be the committee’s ranking member.