Today is an interesting day here in D.C. – the first day of the 112th Congress. Yes, only in Washington do we measure time in “Congresses” rather than, say, years like normal people.
The first day of a new Congress is a strange cross between the first day of school and having two dozen graduation parties to go to on the same day. People are excited to see each other, there are a bunch of “new kids,” and everyone serves food. Members host receptions, usually in their offices, and it is a generally festive day. Many RAC staffers are on the Hill today, meeting new members and their staffs, touching base with other offices, and, undoubtedly eating more cheese and crackers than are good for them.
This year, of course, the start of Congress is both festive and highly significant. As the Republicans take control of the House of Representatives, we welcome a new Speaker of the House , a new leadership team, and new Chairman for every committee. They come to power riding a wave of voter unhappiness, even anger, and are committed to doing things differently.
Doing things differently is also the theme of the day in the Senate. Although control of the Senate remains with the Democrats, senators will begin consideration of a package of rules changes aimed at making the Senate a more functional place. (For the CCAR’s take on the package, see here
.) You could be excused for thinking that it could hardly be a less functional place!
For the Jewish community, one interesting sidebar is that today will see Rep. Eric Cantor sworn in as House Majority Leader, making him the first Jewish Majority Leader and the highest ranking Jewish Member of Congress in history. We look forward to working with the new Majority Leader, and entire new Leadership team.
Today is a particularly fitting day for Rep. Cantor’s ascension. It was exactly 184 years ago, on January 5th, 1826, that the State of Maryland extended to Jews the right to hold public office with its passage of the “Jew Bill” (“An Act to extend to the sect of people professing the Jewish religion the same rights and privileges that are enjoyed by Christians”). As the indispensable Jewdayo
email list notes, “The bill, which still required officeholders to profess belief in a ‘future state of rewards and punishments,’ was championed by legislator Thomas Kennedy, who had never met a Jew (there were only 150 in the state at the time).” (The “Jew Bill” was, by the way, the subject of a major research paper in my law school days. I’d include a link to the paper, but I’m afraid it’s only available in my basement. Yes, I went to law school before the internet really existed!)