Last week concluded the Second Session of the 114th Congress. The First Session of the 115th Congress kicks off on January 3, 2017. They intend to get to work right away on a budget resolution to repeal Obamacare, cancel as many harmful Obama-era regulations as possible, and begin the confirmation process for the Trump Administration as soon as possible. The President and Vice President will be sworn in on the West Front of the Capitol on January 20, 2017 at 12:00 noon. If you’re going to be in town for the inauguration, let me know.
Here’s a summary of what happened this week:
Government funding. The House of Representatives passed the continuing resolution yesterday and left town for the year. The Senate is scheduled to leave town later today, after they approve the short-term spending bill that will keep the federal government open through April 28, 2017. A group of Senate Democrats is delaying the passage of the funding resolution, trying to hold out for an extension of health care benefits for coal miners. But the House has already left town, so they have almost no leverage for their efforts to amend the legislation (which would need another vote in the House). Technically, the government runs out of funding at midnight tonight if the Senate can’t pass this funding measure.
NDAA. The Senate voted 92-7 this week to approve the FY17 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Taken with last week’s 375-34 vote in the House, that is a veto-proof level of support for the NDAA. Months ago, the Obama Administration threatened to veto the NDAA, but with that level of support in Congress, it is doubtful that the lame duck president will veto the defense bill.
21st Century Cures. The Congress also overwhelmingly approved the 21st Century Cures Act, which includes several good FDA reforms as well as $6.3 billion for medical research, funding to fight the opioid epidemic, and funding for the “cancer moonshot” initiative. The President will sign the bill into law next Tuesday.
Koskinen Impeachment. Conservative members of the House Freedom Caucus tried to make good on a promise this week to hold the IRS accountable for their partisan actions against right-leaning 501(c)3 organizations. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) filed articles of impeachment against IRS commissioner John Koskinen for his role in trying to cover up the scandal, to say nothing of his failure of leadership in cleaning up the IRS after the scandal. But the GOP leadership offered a “motion to refer” the impeachment matter to the House Judiciary Committee, which overwhelmingly passed the House by a vote of 342-72. By referring the matter to committee, the issue is essentially dead this year. At this point, there are no plans to bring up the issue next year.
So long, farewell. Two long-time Democrat fixtures of the United States Senate will not be around next year: Senate President Joe Biden and Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid. Auf Wiedersehen, goodbye.
Trump Administration. More officials were named this week to serve in the Trump Administration:
- Labor Secretary– CEO of CKE Restaurants Andrew Puzder.
- HUD Secretary– Former presidential candidate Ben Carson.
- EPA Commissioner– Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt.
- SBA Administrator– WWE co-founder Linda McMahon
- Ambassador to China– Iowa Governor Terry Branstad.
Also, to help streamline the process for the confirmation of Gen. James Mattis to be the next defense secretary, the short-term spending bill (which the Senate is currently debating) includes a provision that fast-tracks the waiver process that will be needed for Gen. Mattis to serve in the Cabinet. Gen. Mattis will need to waive the rule that doesn’t allow former military officers to serve as Secretary of Defense within 7 years of active duty.
One last thing. Republicans are gearing up for a grueling confirmation process next year. Senate Democrats are still seething over the GOP’s refusal to consider Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court, and they are preparing to exact revenge. Stay tuned for more of that drama early next year.
Brian Williams is the NCPA’s Legislative Director.