The 115th Congress is being sworn in today, with the Republicans controlling both the House and the Senate.
When President-elect Donald Trump takes office, it’ll be the first time in a decade the GOP is in charge of both houses of Congress and the White House.
In a surprise move, House Republicans made ethics oversight their first piece of business. They voted Monday night behind closed doors to put Congress’s independent ethics office under the control of the House ethics committee.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte, Judiciary committee chairman and the Republican sponsoring the measure, said in a statement it “builds upon and strengthens” the work of the ethics office, reports CBS News correspondent Nancy Cordes. Democrats called the move “crippling” and said it could make it harder for Congress to police itself.
Goodlatte’s measure would have reduced the power of a watchdog put in place by Democrats in 2008, after an investigation of Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff led to his conviction and exposed a ring of corruption.
The move came under immediate fire from both sides. Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi released a statement saying: “Republicans claim they want to ‘drain the swamp,’ but the night before the new Congress gets sworn in, the House GOP has eliminated the only independent ethics oversight of their actions. Evidently, ethics are the first casualty of the new Republican Congress.” She also added: “The amendment Republicans approved tonight would functionally destroy this office.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan also spoke out against the measure, which would rename the Office of Congressional Ethics as the Office of Congressional Complaint Review, barring it from investigating anonymous tips and giving a separate ethics committee run by lawmakers the power to end any investigation of their colleagues.
The controversy was just the beginning of a long agenda Congress wants passed before the inauguration.
Republicans are also moving ahead with plans to dismantle Obamacare.
GOP lawmakers say they will pass a bill this week that will make it easier for them to repeal the entire health care law within the next month or so.
“We’re doing what we promised,” Georgia Congressman Doug Collins said. “What we have seen so much with Obamacare is that what has happened is that what sounded good turned out to be a disaster.”
Democrats said the disaster will be if millions of Americans lose their new insurance.
“It’s never been reasonable to repeal it without a plan to replace it,” said Rep. Richard Neal, the top Democrat on the House Committee on Ways and Means.
Republicans are also looking to quickly roll back other Obama initiatives like the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform package put in place after the financial crisis and various energy, environmental and labor regulations.
Collins will introduce the “Reins Act” on Tuesday, a bill making it easier to sweep away a bundle of new regulations all at once.
“We’re just simply saying, you’re not going to be able to do these in the undercover of agencies with people not having input and knowing what happens,” Collins said.
Thirty-four senators and the entire House will be sworn into office on Tuesday. Democrats made slight gains in November but they are still outnumbered by 47 members. Last night’s ethics moves show that Republicans intend to make their dominance felt right away.
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