Congress Looks to Quickly Wrap Up Lame-Duck

Lauren French

Trump continues to announce Cabinet selections as Congress works toward a funding bill

December 1, 2016 – The 114th Congress is quickly coming to an end. Lawmakers are scheduled to depart in two weeks – though it is highly likely they’ll leave town much sooner than that.

As it stands now, there are only a few critical items left on the agenda. Most importantly, Congress needs to resolve how it intends to continue to fund the government beyond Dec. 9. A short-term spending bill will likely pass both the House and the Senate next week with ease, as will a defense policy bill. The remaining items, such as a water infrastructure bill and other pieces of legislation designed to clear the decks for 2017, are also set to be debated.

Meanwhile, President-elect Donald Trump is continuing to roll out key Cabinet nominees for his administration. Different factions of the Trump world are heavily pushing for their favored candidates, but the New York Republican is clearly making selections that appeal to members of his party in Congress.

Still outstanding are many of the most influential secretaries, including secretary of defense, secretary of state, and secretary of homeland security. These announcements are expected in the coming weeks.

The government is set to run out of money in a little more than seven days. But unlike past Congresses where there was a real risk of a shutdown before the holidays, all parties believe a stopgap spending bill to fund the government into next year will pass.

A deal to pass a continuing resolution that lasts through March or as late as April, emerged this week as the most likely option. Different factions of the GOP originally had diverging opinions on the length of the resolution, but April is emerging as the likely end date. This would give Trump more leverage to influence budget negotiations while allowing the Senate to deal with cabinet and a potential Supreme Court nominee confirmation hearings.

The stopgap funding measure will extend spending at the current fiscal year 2016 levels.

There is unlikely to be major opposition to this bill. Conservatives in the House wanted a short-term plan to give Trump the advantage as he enters his presidency, so an April end date is likely to be supported by many in the House Freedom Caucus. Democrats would normally fight these stopgap measures to extract any political or policy wins while President Barack Obama is still in office, but with an incoming Trump administration, turmoil among House Democrats, and a Senate GOP majority, that effort could be redirected to the larger spring package.

A major healthcare spending bill is also up for consideration. The 21st Century Cures Act, which allocates spending to combat cancer, treat mental health issues, and other diseases has been a major priority for lawmakers throughout 2016. It was expected to pass smoothly until Sen. Elizabeth Warren – a leading progressive voice among Democrats – announced her intention to oppose the bill over her belief that it lacks transparency and gives pharmaceutical companies too much access to doctors. It will be critical to watch how much Warren’s opposition sways other Democrats.

A massive defense authorization bill that governs our national security policy should also see a House vote this week, likely Friday. It is an indication of the bill’s importance, from a policy and political perspective, that leaders in both chambers and on both sides of the aisle worked to map out a road to passage prior to adjournment.

The House and Senate passed their respective versions of the National Defense Authorization Act over the summer, allowing ample time for the “Big Four” – the chairmen and ranking minority members of the two Armed Services Committees – to reconcile the two versions. These lawmakers reached an agreement on the overall funding level by adding $9 billion to the top line number to address funding shortfalls, which had been a fundamental impediment to reaching agreement late last month. They ultimately stripped many of the most contentious items from the final text to ensure a veto-proof bill.

The Senate will take up the measure after the House vote – giving the upper chamber a tight timeline to secure passage before the end of the lame duck session. Obama is expected to sign the compromise bill.

Another consideration for the lame duck is an immense authorization and reform bill focused on water projects and safety. This complicates the path to adjournment as Senate Democrats have insisted upon securing Water Resources Development Act funding to address water contamination in Flint, Michigan. While both chambers worked to move their respective versions earlier this year, they have not been able to overcome internal disagreements and pass a conference report to date. Determined committee leaders – Sens. David Vitter and Sen. Barbara Boxer and Reps. Bill Shuster and Peter DeFazio – have used the recess to build support for a lame duck passage. Staff level negotiations continue to seek agreement, but there is mixed belief on whether this measure will be passed before Congress adjourns. Flint funding is expected to be addressed in the continuing resolution if the water bill does not pass.

Republicans’ desire to use the Congressional Review Act in the next session is driving urgency to wrap up the session quickly. This functionary law allows Congress to repeal, using a special procedure, any final rule issued within a 60-day window of actual legislative activity in Congress by a federal agency.

Adjourning quickly will give Republicans a chance to undo some of the Obama administration’s final policy pushes in the 115th Congress. The rules are bureaucratic, but they essentially allow a review of any regulation finalized after late May 2016.

While Democrats will surely put up a fight to a Republican rollback of Obama initiatives, the review process allows for a “fast track” parliamentary procedure, meaning these votes are not subject to a filibuster and require only a simple majority of both houses and agreement by Trump.

The Congressional Research Service lists 48 major rules and regulations that could be reversed at the onset of the 115th Congress if lawmakers use the Congressional Review Act. Major regulations that are opposed by Republicans and have proved highly controversial include:

• Regulations governing serving sizes from the Food and Drug Administration
• Department of Agriculture regulations on nutritional standards for food served in schools
• Environmental Protection Agency regulations concerning greenhouse gases
• Treasury Department and Commodities Futures Trading Commission regulations on covered swap entities, including margin, and capital requirements
• Department of Transportation and Federal Aviation Administration regulations on drones

We discussed in the last issue of Insights how internal elections for congressional leadership played out in the Senate and for House Republicans, but the House Democrats opted to delay their elections after the Nov. 8 outcome deeply roiled their caucus.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi won her re-election bid against Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan by 71 votes – the closest margin the California Democrat has faced since she first joined the leadership ranks a decade ago. Ryan’s platform contended that stagnation at the top of the Democratic leadership ranks hurt the party during the November election. He also emphasized the importance of Democrats reaching out to Rust Belt voters if they have any hopes of regaining the House or Senate majorities or the White House.

Pelosi wasn’t the only lawmaker to face a close vote on Wednesday. Rep. Linda Sanchez narrowly beat out Rep. Barbara Lee – both from California – to be the vice-chair of the Democratic Caucus. Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland and Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn of South Carolina were both reappointed to their respective positions.

Rep. Joe Crowley was elected to serve as the chairman of the Democratic Caucus.

Pelosi’s reelection means the leadership ranks of House Democrats will broadly look similar to the past three Congresses, but there will be a major change among committee leadership. Rep. Sandy Levin of Michigan announced his plan to step down as a ranking member of the influential Ways and Means Committee this week. Levin’s abdication of the role had teed off a bitter fight for the top Democratic spot on the tax-writing panel. Reps. Richard Neal of Massachusetts and Xavier Becerra of California both announced their intentions to run for the post but Becerra later accepted an appointment as attorney general of California. Neal is expected to win the ranking member post.

Trump has announced key Cabinet appointments in recent days, opting – for the most part – to pick Republicans with deep ties to Capitol Hill. Elaine Chao, former secretary of labor and a deputy transportation secretary, has been nominated to serve as secretary of transportation. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley was selected as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations – giving her a platform to influence how the Trump administration engages globally. And Rep. Tom Price, the current Chairman of the House Budget Committee, was tapped to lead the Department of Health and Human Services.

Chao – who is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – and Haley are both well-respected and well-connected to congressional Republicans. This points to Vice President-elect Mike Pence’s deep influence on the transition team. Pence was used throughout the campaign as an olive branch to Capitol Hill, and is clearly using his position as the head of the transition team to burnish Trump’s relationship with Senate and House Republicans ahead of the inauguration.

McConnell and the Senate will not confirm any of the nominees until the next Congress, but as things stand, it looks like there are only a few nominees that will face significant scrutiny from Senate Democrats. One of these is Price, Trump’s pick for the Department of Health and Human Services.

The Georgia Republican is well-respected within the GOP for his focus on repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act. While he’ll enjoy broad support among Republicans, you can expect Senate Democrats to use the confirmation process to highlight the success of the ACA. This will likely be a precursor to the intense battles we’ll see next Congress over the healthcare law that is central to Obama’s legacy. Still, Republicans only need 51 votes to confirm a nominee, and McConnell will likely have a team of 52 GOP senators to buoy these nominations.

Attorney General nominee, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, may also face heavy opposition from Democrats. He’s a hard-liner on immigration, which would bring out the fight in incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. But he is still likely to be approved.

The nomination process is expected to create vacancies in key congressional committees – and the jockeying to fill those influential posts have already begun. If Price is confirmed as Health and Human Services secretary, his position atop the high-profile House Budget Committee will be open. Rep. Todd Rokita, the current vice chairman of the committee, has already announced his intention to take the gavel. Rep. Tom McClintock of California could also be in the mix. The Budget panel is not considered a top-tier fundraising committee, but it gives the chairman an impressive platform to push forward GOP ideas. Consider that Speaker Ryan rose to prominence in large part because of his role as the Budget Committee chairman. And the Budget Committee is likely to be much more influential in the coming Congress as there is intense focus on repealing Obamacare, which can only be done through a reconciliation process.

Once confirmed, Sessions would vacate his position as chairman of the Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Refugees. This would be another hot committee post given the prominent role that immigration is expected to play in the early days of the Trump Administration.

There are still a handful of critical posts to fill, including secretary of state, secretary of defense, and other key White House posts. We’ll update you as more nominees are announced. Below is a list of names that have been floated along with confirmed selections.


Communications Director
• Jason Miller – Trump campaign senior communications adviser

Press Secretary
• Jason Miller – Trump campaign senior communications adviser
• Laura Ingraham – Conservative pundit
• Sean Spicer – Republican National Committee strategist and communications director

National Security Advisor
• Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn – Former Defense Intelligence Agency director (Selected)


Department of State
• John Bolton – Former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; senior fellow at AEI
• Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker – Foreign Relations Committee Chairman
• Rudy Giuliani – Former New York City mayor
• Mitt Romney – Former Republican presidential candidate; Former Massachusetts governor
• Stanley McChrystal – Retired U.S. Army general; Joint Special Operations Command
• David Petraeus – Former director of the Central Intelligence Agency
• Zalmay Khalilzad – Former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan

Department of Treasury
• Steve Mnuchin – Co-chairman and CEO of Dune Capital (Selected)

Department of Defense
• James Mattis – Retired Marine Corps general; former commander of U.S. Central Command (Selected)

Department of Transportation
• Elaine Chao – Former secretary of labor under President George W. Bush (Selected)

Attorney General
• Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions (Selected)

Department of the Interior
• Jan Brewer – Former Arizona governor
• Robert E. Grady – Gryphon Investors partner
• Harold G. Hamm – Continental Resources CEO
• Forrest Lucas – President of Lucas Oil Products
• Sarah Palin – Former Alaska governor

Department of Agriculture
• Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback
• Chuck Conner – National Council of Farmer Cooperatives CEO
• Sid Miller – Texas Agriculture commissioner
• Sonny Perdue – Former Georgia governor

Department of Health and Human Services
• Georgia Rep. Tom Price – Chairman of the House Budget Committee (Selected)

Department of Commerce
• Wilbur Ross – Investor (Selected)

Department of Labor
• Victoria Lipnic – Commissioner of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
• Mike Huckabee – Former Arkansas governor
• Bobby Jindal – Former Louisiana governor
• Florida Gov. Rick Scott

Department of Energy
• James Connaughton – CEO of Nautilus Data Technologies; former environmental advisor to President George W. Bush
• Robert E. Grady – Gryphon Investors partner
• Harold Hamm – CEO of Continental Resources

Department of Education
• Betsy DeVos – Former chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party (Selected)

Department of Veterans Affairs
• Florida Rep. Jeff Miller – Veterans’ Affairs Committee chairman
• Scott Brown – Former senator from Massachusetts
• Sarah Palin – Former governor of Alaska and former Republican vice presidential candidate

Department of Homeland Security
• Joe Arpaio – Departing Maricopa County sheriff
• David Clarke Jr. – Milwaukee Wisconsin County sheriff
• Rudy Giuliani – Former mayor of New York City
• Texas Rep. Michael McCaul – Homeland Security Committee chairman
• Kris Kobach – Kansas secretary of state; Trump immigration advisor

Department of Housing and Urban Development
• Ben Carson – Former neurosurgeon; former Republican presidential candidate (Selected)


Environmental Protection Agency
• Myron Ebell – Director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute
• Robert Grady – Gryphon Investors partner
• Jeffrey Holmstead – Lawyer at Bracewell LLP; former deputy EPA administrator under President George W. Bush

U.S. Trade Representative
• Dan DiMicco – Former CEO of Nucor Corporation

United Nations Ambassador
• South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (Selected)

• Kansas Rep. Mark Pompeo – Third-term congressman (Selected)

NASA Administrator
• Oklahoma Rep. Jim Bridenstine

Director of National Intelligence
• Rudy Giuliani – Former New York City mayor
• Michael S. Rogers – Navy admiral; director of the National Security Agency
• Indiana Sen. Dan Coats

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