The 115th Congress convened on Tuesday, January 3. New members were sworn in, the House re-elected Speaker Ryan and adopted a rules package, and New York Senator Schumer gave his first floor speech as the chamber’s new Minority Leader. Republican leaders laid the groundwork for moving several of the party’s top legislative and policy priorities.
First up is the opening round of a series of legislative maneuvers to roll back many Obama administration regulations such as the Clean Power Plan through bills to require Congressional approval of major Executive Branch regulations, and new House rules directing committees to identify specific federal regulations or agencies that they think should be eliminated or consolidated.
The first order of business for the Senate is the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act. Senate Budget Chairman Enzi introduced a slimmed-down budget resolution that includes reconciliation instructions that would fast-track and protect from filibuster the legislation to repeal the healthcare law. The resolution could be brought to the Senate floor as soon as next week.
Other Republican priorities for the 115th Congress include a comprehensive tax code overhaul. House Ways and Means Chairman Brady plans to mark up a bill in late January and is expected to either make permanent or scrap some of the dozens of mostly energy-related tax credits that Congress extends every few years. It’s not clear when tax reform will get off the ground in the Senate.
It’s unknown when President-elect Trump will officially unveil his $1 trillion infrastructure investment proposal, but how to pay for it will surely be the sticking point. Other fiscal issues loom on the agenda this spring as the current continuing resolution expires at the same time as the FY2018 appropriations process gets off the ground and a decision needs to be made on whether to raise the federal debt ceiling.
As soon as next week, the Senate is expected to begin confirmation hearings on Trump’s cabinet picks, likely beginning with the nomination of Elaine Chao to be Secretary of Transportation, followed by Attorney General candidate Sen. Jeff Sessions, and the nominations of Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State and Rep. Price for HHS secretary.
In the meantime, President-elect Trump continues to announce other Cabinet picks, most recently nominating Robert Lighthizer as United States Trade Representative. Lighthizer served under President Ronald Reagan as Deputy United States Trade Representative. Wall Street lawyer Jay Clayton has been selected to head the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Trump has not yet announced picks to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, USDA, or the Council of Economic Advisers.
A FEW IMPORTANT DATES ON THE HORIZON:
- January 10: President Obama’s farewell speech in Chicago.
- January 20: Presidential Inaugural Day.
- Late Jan/early Feb: Congressional Democrats and Republicans hold their policy retreats to set party agendas for the 115th Congress .
- March 16: The debt limit comes back into effect, although the Treasury will begin using “extraordinary measures” that are expected to delay the threat of default until July.
- April 28 – Current Continuing Resolution expires; final FY2017 appropriations will likely be wrapped up in an omnibus spending package.