115th Congress Gets Organized for the Work Ahead

On January 3, the 115th Congress kicked off its first session with formal swearing in ceremonies. In the House of Representatives, the freshman class includes 52 members (26 Republicans and 27 Democrats), while the Senate has 7 new members (2 Republicans and 5 Democrats). This Congress is considerably more diverse with women and minorities making considerable gains. This increased diversity is reflected in the House and Senate leadership where women hold some of the highest positions. In the House, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) were tapped to serve as the House Minority Leader and Republican Conference Chair, respectively. In the Senate, Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) are serving as the Assistant Minority Leader and Policy Committee Chair, respectively.

Throughout the month of January, House and Senate committees announced new appointments and unveiled, in some cases, new chairs and ranking members. The House Appropriations Committee, which drafts all 12 federal funding bills, is experiencing some of the most dramatic changes. Due to term limits imposed on the previous chairman, Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY), the Committee is now being chaired by Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ). Chairman Frelinghuysen, who has served on the Appropriations Committee for two decades, has a reputation as a centrist with considerable experience in defense spending. He will have the challenge of wrapping up FY 2017 appropriations and then drafting FY 2018 appropriations bills that will include both new spending measures (including costs associated with infrastructure and a border wall) and new cuts (sequestration cuts kick in again in October 2017).

Also joining the appropriations committee on the House side are three new Republican members: Rep. John Moolenaar (R-MI), Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA), and Rep. Scott Taylor (R-VA). On the Democratic side, four new members were added, Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.), Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), and Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.). On the Senate Appropriations Committee, Republicans added two new members, Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and John Neely Kennedy (R-LA), while the Democrats welcomed Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Joe Manchin (D-WVA).

The House and Senate Appropriations Committees will have a great deal of difficult work ahead of them. So will science advocates who want to ensure that the U.S. leadership in science does not falter due to either stagnant budgets or cuts in the budgets of federal science agencies.