The 116th U.S. Congress commenced chaotically on Jan. 3, with Democrats taking control of the House for the first time since 2010, Republicans retaining the Senate and a partial shutdown of the U.S. government in full swing. One-third of President Trump’s cabinet is vacant or filled with acting secretaries, a trade war with China continues and the Democratic presidential primary season will soon begin.
All this will ensure that this new Congress will be quite active and merit constant monitoring!
The Senate will spend much of its time confirming executive and judicial appointments. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been very clear that he considers part of his legacy to reshape the courts, and he has worked closely with the White House on getting judicial vacancies filled.
So far, the Trump administration and the Republican Senate have confirmed nearly 100 circuit and appellate court judges with dozens of vacancies still awaiting action. In addition, there are 330 vacancies in the executive branch for senior roles that require Senate confirmation, including six cabinet secretaries and directors. Each confirmation takes time, which could come at the expense of legislating in the first quarter of the year.
Look to the House of Representatives to take up legislation on ethics reform, expanded background checks for gun purchases, voting rights expansion and an immigration bill to enact the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act). With Democrats now in control of the House, it is a smart bet that we will see nearly all the committees aggressively exercise their oversight authority to be a check on the administration.
We’ll see hearings on Russian election tampering, the president’s taxes, regulation rollback, the administration’s anti-climate-change policies, ethics infractions by various cabinet members and a host of other issues. What remains to be seen is where the House decides to go on impeachment, a politically charged issue whose fate rests on the results of the Mueller investigation.
Finding Common Ground
Legislative policies where many believe both the Senate and House can find common ground and get bills to the president’s desk include a comprehensive infrastructure package and data privacy regulation legislation. On infrastructure, there is bipartisan agreement that our nation’s roads, bridges and waterways need substantial upgrades. The key will be figuring out how to pay for it. On privacy, recent data breaches and revelations about how one’s personal data is handled by social-media companies and other consumer-oriented platforms and businesses have drawn bipartisan ire. Many members of Congress have made commitments to find a path forward on a national law that gives Americans more control over their personal data.
Congress is compelled to act as California has enacted a privacy law that goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2020. Should Congress fail to act before this, other states may then feel obligated to pass their own privacy laws, which will make it far harder to pass a federal standard in the future. Finally, the recent ruling by a federal judge in the Northern District of Texas striking down the Affordable Care Act all but ensures both chambers of Congress will look at ways to prioritize, perfect and protect all or parts of the bill.
It remains to be seen where global trade policy is headed. The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (NAFTA 2.0) will likely face a ratification vote in the spring. The 90-day trade “truce” with China ends in March, and thus far there have been no changes to tariff policy on billions of dollars of products coming into the U.S. from foreign markets. Though the previous congressional leadership was reticent to act on trade, it is not completely out of the question to see this new Congress challenge the president legislatively should enough data show that the trade policies of the Trump administration are having an adverse effect on our economic output.
Amidst the craziness, policies with consequence will be enacted, and FIA will do its best to let our elected representatives know what is best for our employees, our companies and our customers.
Please refer any questions or comments to James R. Warren, FIA president and CEO (left). He can be reached at 216-781-6260 or email@example.com.