What Happened in Washington Last Week?

Congress was in the throes of the lame duck session last week and will be this week:

  • The House of Representatives passed the 21st Century Cures Act this week that increases federal research funding for the National Institutes of Health. Congress added provisions to the bill that combat opioid and other prescription drug addictions, as well as a provision to boost federal mental health programs. The Senate is expected to vote on the bill next week before sending it to the President for his signature. President Obama is expected to sign the bill.
  • On Friday, the House passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) by a vote of 375-34. The bill sets the nation’s defense priorities for the coming year. Among other policies, the NDAA increases pay for our nation’s fighting men and women, it cuts the Pentagon bureaucracy, and it begins the process of reforming the defense acquisition process. These were ideas proposed and championed by NCPA in our Common Defense initiative earlier this year. The Senate will consider the NDAA bill next week before sending it to the President for his signature. President Obama has threatened to veto the bill in the past, but that threat was made before the election. The White House hasn’t made a recent statement one way or the other on the matter.
  • Next week, both the House and Senate are expected to pass a temporary continuing resolution to keep the federal government open until April 2017, well into the Trump Administration’s first few months, and with enough time for the new Trump budget team to get organized. That means the new 115th Congress will need to address the current funding issue once again, around the same time we reach the national debt limit, so look for another grand bargain or some sort of comprehensive long-term budget compromise next Spring.

An interesting game of musical chairs always happens when a new president is elected. But when the control of the Executive Branch changes from one party to another, it means thousands of federal jobs are at stake.  And it doesn’t only affect the Executive Branch; the Legislative Branch is also experiencing its own game of musical chairs as Senators and Representatives are tapped to work in the Trump Administration.  Between now and January 20, thousands of Obama Administration political appointees will need to move out so that thousands of Trump Administration political appointees can move in.  It all starts with the cabinet appointees:

  • Attorney General– Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL). Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley announced that he will move forward with confirmation hearings for Sen. Sessions before the January 20 inauguration.
  • Defense Secretary– General James Mattis. Although the President-Elect mentioned this appointment at a rally last week, the official announcement won’t happen until this week. (So act surprised!)
  • Treasury Secretary– Former Goldman Sachs executive Steven Mnuchin (pronounced Mun-oo-chin, or Mun-oo-shin, depending on who you ask).
  • HHS Secretary– House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-GA). He has been a key player in the Obamacare repeal/replace wars. In a unique convergence of the executive and legislative calendars, Chairman Price will preside over the Obamacare repeal efforts in the House that will kick off on January 3, 2016, before he is sworn in as Secretary of Health and Human Services, sometime after the January 20 inauguration of President Trump. After that, the House Budget Committee will need a new chairman, perhaps Rep. Todd Rokita, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, or Rep. Tom McClintock.
  • Commerce Secretary– Investor Wilbur Ross.
  • Transportation Secretary– Former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao. Trivia question of the day: How many people have served as both Secretary of Transportation and Secretary of Labor, and is also married to the Senate Majority Leader? Answer: 2. Secretary Chao is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Secretary Elizabeth Dole is married to former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole and served as both Transportation and Labor secretary.
  • Up on Capitol Hill, both Paul Ryan and Nancy Pelosi prevailed in their respective races to lead their respective parties in the House of Representatives. Speaker Paul Ryan says he talks to the President-Elect almost every day, which is a nice change of pace to the current president, who is notorious for ignoring the Speaker of the House, to say nothing of Congress at large. For her part, Nancy Pelosi is going to be busy fending off challenges to her own leadership and rebuilding her party after the election decimated the Democrats.
  • Also on the Hill, several of the committees will change leadership next year. Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) will be chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN) will chair the House Veterans Affairs Committee, and Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) will chair the House Education and Workforce Committee. Here’s a list of the other committee chairmen that will take the gavel next year.

Brian Williams is the NCPA’s legislative director.

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