As the world is gripped by the catastrophic events in the Middle East and the continued bloodshed in Ukraine, the United States government remains effectively paralyzed as House Republicans find themselves incapable of coalescing around a new Speaker.
Nearly three weeks after former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) was removed from his post, the majority party in the House has nominated and then discarded two potential replacements (current Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH)), considered and rejected a plan to give the Speaker Pro Tem Patrick McHenry (R-NC) the power to bring legislation to the floor, sniped at one another on X/Twitter, held countless caucus meetings at which mountains of pizza were eaten but no solutions found, endured angry and threatening messages from constituents, and even saw one of their members throw in the towel and announce her retirement.
Meanwhile, House Democrats, who, as the minority party, lack the power to do much of anything, have made half-hearted overtures to encourage a handful of GOP lawmakers to cross the aisle and vote for Dem leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) as Speaker.
As the events in Israel and Gaza the last two weeks have shown, the inability of House Republicans to re-open the House has real-world consequences. Late last week, President Biden, fresh off his wartime trip to Tel Aviv, sent Congress a request for more than $100 billion in emergency supplemental spending to arm Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan, as well as provide funding for U.S.-Mexico border security. While the Senate can begin working on the package, the House cannot.
At the same time, current spending for the federal government expires on November 17, and without action by Congress to pass full-year appropriations bills or another stopgap spending bill, the government will shut down. And closer to home for the CRM industry, the Historic Preservation Fund’s authority to collect revenue from offshore drilling royalties expired on October 1. ACRA and its allies are working aggressively to advance legislation to renew the Fund. But none of these measures can move ahead – or even be brought up on the House floor – until a new Speaker is selected.
Despite the chaos on the House side of the Capitol, other parts of government are working, including some that impact CRM. For example:
- Housing and Historic Preservation. The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) has published a draft policy statement on housing and historic preservation. As the Council notes, “America is suffering from a massive shortage of available housing units, and the crisis is particularly acute regarding affordable housing. Reusing existing buildings is integral to addressing this critical problem, and – since about 40 percent of America’s buildings are at least 50 years old – rehabilitating historic housing and adapting historic buildings not originally built for housing is essential.”
According to the Council, the draft statement “provides advice to all levels of government, community groups, nonprofit organizations, developers, and others in the private sector regarding the importance of gathering information relating to historic preservation and housing; reusing historic buildings; accelerating project permitting and environmental review; education; and collaboration.”
ACHP is inviting the public to offer comments on their draft statement until 5 p.m. ET November 11, 2023. The ACRA Government Relations Committee is reviewing the statement and welcomes any comments from ACRA members. Please send them to email@example.com by November 4.
- Exemptions from NEPA and Sec. 106. Legislation to exempt certain telecommunications projects has been teed up by House committees for floor action – whenever the House elects a Speaker.
H.R.3557, the American Broadband Deployment Act of 2023, would, among other things, exempt certain broadband-deployment projects from NEPA and Section 106 reviews and codify the Tribal notification process for new wireless infrastructure. The bill was approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee last spring, and earlier this month was cleared by two other House committees to head to the House floor.
The bill’s backers say that NEPA and NHPA reviews “can cost tens of thousands of dollars to complete and take years to obtain approval, thus delaying and increasing the cost of deployment. Worse, these reviews can be required even on previously disturbed lands where a review previously took place.” But congressional opponents say the bill “regrettably proposes to eliminate standard environmental and historic preservation reviews that simply do not affect the overwhelming majority of communications infrastructure projects,” and that existing categorial exclusions address these kinds of projects.
The timing on action by the full House on the bill is unclear, since the House cannot debate and vote on legislation until a new Speaker is elected. ACRA and its preservation allies continue to educate lawmakers about the importance of the Sec. 106 process.