New GOP representatives seek to stop funding bill

Political Notebook

In one of his first actions in his new seat, U.S. Rep. John Joyce, R-13th District, voted against plans to reopen the government two weeks into a partial shutdown.

A new Congress — with its lower house now controlled by Democrats — was seated last week, and its leaders moved swiftly to end the shutdown that began before Christmas. Democrats led by new Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., pushed through two bills — one to fund most of the shuttered agencies, another to fund the Department of Homeland Security.

The House voted largely along party lines to pass the plans, which do not include money for the southern border wall demanded by President Donald Trump.

Asked by reporters last week whether the Democrats now in charge would approve even a dollar for the wall, Pelosi replied: “One dollar? Yeah, one dollar. The fact is, a wall is an immorality. It’s not who we are as a nation.”

The day he was sworn in, Joyce joined most of his fellow Pennsylvania Republicans to oppose both votes.

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-1st District, was among a small handful of GOP representatives who broke with their party and voted to reopen the government. One funding bill passed 239-192, while another passed 241-190.

The Democratic plan was largely symbolic, lacking support from the GOP-run Senate and from Trump himself. Trump has dug in in recent days, tweeting regularly about the need for a wall and suggesting he could declare a state of emergency and use the “military version of eminent domain” to seize land for the barrier.

Other local Republicans, including Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-15th District, joined their party allies in voting against the reopening effort.

Democratic leaders warned late last week that the shutdown could drag on indefinitely, with Trump threatening to keep several federal agencies closed for “months or even years,” according to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

While some government agencies are funded separately, several cabinet-level departments remain closed. Officials have warned that funding for programs like SNAP, which covers food aid benefits for millions of Americans, could begin to run dry next month if the government isn’t reopened.

Pennsylvania’s senators have watched the fight in the House, unable to vote with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., stopping a vote in his chamber. Late last week, Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., urged Republicans to move the vote forward, while representatives of Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., told reporters he hoped Democrats would reach a deal.

Casey predicted a vote to reopen the government would easily pass the upper chamber if Republican leaders allowed a vote.

“It would receive overwhelming support in the Senate if it were brought up,” he said, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “We should vote on it.”

Locals left out of top committee spots

In Harrisburg, the halls of power remain in Republican hands — but so far, local House members aren’t in control of any committees that make key legislative decisions.

Republican leaders in the state House released their committee chair assignments on Wednesday, identifying the lawmakers who will have power over which bills reach the floor.

Not one committee chair is set to be occupied by a legislator from Blair or its neighboring counties, a reminder that many of the region’s lawmakers are relative newcomers.

Blair County’s two House representatives this session — Jim Gregory, R-Hollidaysburg, and Louis Schmitt, R-Altoona — are freshmen in the House, replacing lawmakers who had served multiple terms. Neighboring counties’ representatives have more experience, but none have reached the seniority to head key committees.

Observers predicted committee shakeups, even with Republicans retaining their hold over the state House. For example, state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry — known for his radical stances and unwillingness to allow any legislation he opposes to see the light of day — was moved to the Environmental Committee. Metcalfe had previously controlled the State Government Committee, where he clashed with advocates of legal protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Pennsylvanians.

State Senate leaders haven’t yet set their committee assignments, but incoming Sen. Judy Ward, R-Blair, is set to take up her first term in the upper chamber. Ward had served on the House Health Committee during her time there.

Sen. Jake Corman, R-Centre, continues to head the Senate this term, albeit with a smaller majority.

In other news:

n Gov. Tom Wolf is set to be sworn in for a second term — along with his new lieutenant governor, John Fetterman, on Jan. 15 in Harrisburg. Wolf begins his second term with a divided government and a new second-in-command, after Fetterman won the race to replace outgoing Lt. Gov. Mike Stack.

n You’ll notice new district numbers for U.S. House members in the Notebook. With the start of the new House session, Pennsylvania’s legislative districts have officially shifted in accordance with last year’s state Supreme Court ruling.

No longer is the local Congress member representing the 9th District — onetime home of famed abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens. As of this month, incoming representative Joyce heads the 13th District, created in 1813 to represent the mountainous country south of Pittsburgh.

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