Getting Started with the 118th Congress
In the political world, the turning of the calendar to January means a new Congress. The 118th Congress gaveled in on January 3, with new members and a new majority party. You may now live in a new district because of redistricting following the 2020 census. As the new Congress starts, there is a rush to introduce legislation. Newly elected leaders seek to set the political tone of the year, and to build momentum for important policy pushes. This new Congress’ introduction has been historically chaotic, with a contested race for Speaker of the House. Political watchers worry this may be a bellwether for how the 118th Congress will function.
When one Congress ends and another begins, any legislation that was not passed is voided and must be re-introduced. For many bills, this cyclical process happens multiple times before they become a law. Legislation is often reshaped and reworded to gain support or to keep up with the current political or cultural climate. Congress is also required to set their own rules to determine how they will operate. They must determine under what terms they’ll set committee membership, what rights will members have, and other important procedural details. The old and the new meld and mingle in these moments. As a 230-year-old institution takes the yeas and nays by electronic vote, as long-standing procedures are reshaped, and as members of Congress that the Founding Fathers would never have imagined would serve offer their vote on the House floor – this is the most ethnically and racially diverse Congress in history!
In moments like the New Year or a new Congress, as we stand on the precipice of the unknown, it can feel scary and uncertain. Especially for those in our communities and congregations who are grappling with difficult circumstances. What will this next year hold? We meet this new Congress with trepidation. Will we see congressional dysfunction, or will the importance of governing lead the way for reasoned and meaningful debate and legislating? How will we be able to act as advocates on the issues that matter to us in a divided and contentious Congress? We face some steep climbs ahead. The new composition of Congress means that bipartisan bills may face even greater difficulty passing – even on crucial pieces of legislation like lifting the debt ceiling or mandatory funding bills. This year, we need to continue fighting for reproductive rights for all, a clear pathway to citizenship for immigrants who have been waiting years, a just peace in Ukraine and around the world, and so much more.
It helps to remember, we are in community as we do this work. No issue rests entirely on any one person’s shoulders. Small steps taken in concert with others have powerful results. Now is a great time to familiarize yourself with your member of Congress. Find out if it’s someone new, or renew a relationship with your existing representative. Look them up right now with our find your legislator tool! Even if you are represented by someone who you don’t align with on the issues, building a relationship with their office is a powerful way to bridge the gap. Writing letters and making phone calls in a consistent drumbeat of prayerful advocacy keeps the issues that matter to people of faith at the forefront of what Congress is discussing. This new year as bills turn over, and new members are sworn in, we can renew our commitment to the issues close at heart. We can also remember to care for ourselves and others, knowing the journey is long and we need to take time for rest.
“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”Psalm 119:105
Amid this uncertainty, there is a grounding that comes from knowing no matter who is controlling Congress, or what their agenda is, we have a simple mandate as people of faith: love God, love others. Making care, and love for our neighbor and creation, the center of our work reminds us that we aren’t buffeted by the political winds but held fast by the moral agenda that guides our work.
Katie Adams is the Policy Advocate for Domestic Issues for the United Church of Christ