Our "Diverse" 114th Congress Stars More Women, More Minorities, And More Republicans — And That'll Change Things
On Tuesday, the legislative calendar begins — the political wonk's equivalent of fashion week. Although I guess watching John Boehner strut into a House Republicans issues conference isn't quite as exciting for everyone, rejoice with me, political nerds! This year's crop of legislators boasts a little more of a few key groups — more women, more minorities, and more Republicans. So how will this new make-up affect the 114th Congress?
Well, it's not as clear-cut as you may think. Naturally, a new Republican majority in the Senate will have some pretty unsurprising effects on the chamber's priorities. You will likely see a lot of pretty classic GOP moves, including a push for the Keystone XL pipeline and further attempts at dismantling the Affordable Care Act. But there are also tensions rising within the party itself, which could be a big blow to the Republican's sure-thing session.
And with two traditionally underrepresented groups making a strengthened showing, should we expect to see more legislation that centers on women and minorities? Again, not necessarily. It is certainly possible that the the simple reminder to White Male Washington that black people, women, and even black women exist, there may not be a whole lot of headway in the lawmaking sense.
Let's take a look at what we should expect from each of these groups in the coming year. Good luck, 114th! I have a feeling you're going to need it.
Right off the bat, House Republicans are already split on a major issue — will they oust John Boehner as speaker? Over the weekend, several ultra-conservative representatives spoke out to say that they would not back Boehner, who has been the leader of the House Republicans since 2006, for reelection. Mainly, they're pissed that he allowed the $1.1 trillion spending bill to squeak through in December, which, by the way, averted a government shut down.
It's the same kind of showdowns that we'll see in the Senate as the push-pull of the conservative v. the super conservative (read: Tea Party) rages on. Ted Cruz, for example, has essentially vowed to make life hell for incoming majority leader Mitch McConnell.
These fears about a highly effective Republican majority could be unfounded thanks to dissension within the GOP's ranks. It's basically coming down to a few people who campaigned on the idea that they would torch everything that President Obama has ever touched. These are the people that could lead us into the same lame-duck Congress that we've had for the last four years.
The Senate has kept steady at 20 women in the chamber, while the House added a handful of lady reps for a total of 84. But if you're thinking the estrogen dosage is going to result in a women's rights wonderland, think again. Along with the record number of women, there is also a record number of pro-life women in Congress. Beating out a previous high of 18, there will now be 21 women chipping away at a right to govern a woman's body. In this case, more women could actually be harmful to typically woman-centric legislation.
Let's also not forget that even at our "record" high, that puts us at 73rd in the world for women in elected office. We share that honor with Turkmenistan. So let's just accept, but not necessarily celebrate this milestone, and hope that we continue to make milestones until women are given equal representation.
It seems that each progressing congressional class welcomes a record-breaking number of minorities. This year, the House has 44 African-Americans, 34 Hispanics, 10 Asian-Americans, and two Native Americans. Over in the Senate, there are two African-Americans, three Hispanics, and one Asian-American.
Yay for the high! But again, it isn't something to celebrate. Mostly because we won't start seeing laws that aren't aimed for the benefit of white males until we stop exclusively electing white males. As of now, there isn't enough minority input to make a world of difference other than what I noted earlier, to remind people that we have a bigger, more diverse pool from which to elect our officials.
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