Lawmakers Will Return to a Different Washington. Republicans will again control both chambers of Congress when lawmakers return in January for the 115th Congress. When Donald Trump is sworn in as the 45th president on Jan. 20, the GOP will control both Congress and the White House for the first time since 2006. But before Republicans can begin the task of tackling their major policy goals, the president-elect will need to finalize his cabinet as well as the 1,200 executive level jobs that require majority approval from the Senate.
Trump's Cabinet. The Senate will begin vetting the president-elect's cabinet nominees when it convenes in January. So far, about two-thirds of cabinet positions have nominees, with the remaining nominations expected over the coming weeks. While a full list of senate confirmation hearings has not been announced, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has already announced that the committee will hold hearings on Jan. 10 and 11 for the president-elect's nominee for attorney general, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), even before Trump is sworn into office.
It is not unusual for the Senate to hold nomination hearings before the inauguration. Seven of President Obama's cabinet nominees who received hearings before he assumed the presidency were confirmed on inauguration day. Unlike Obama, however, Trump's nominees will only need to garner a simple majority in the Senate after a 2013 Senate rules change, known as the "nuclear option," removed the ability to filibuster all of presidential appointees except for the U.S. Supreme Court. Nonetheless, more contentious nominees may still face an uphill battle given that the Republicans hold a slim 52-48 majority in the chamber.
A New Supreme Court Nominee. In addition to holding hearings on Cabinet nominees, the Senate will also look to confirm Trump's nominee to the Supreme Court, who is expected to be named early in the new year, filling the vacancy that has existed since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2015. Unlike cabinet nominations, Senate rules currently require 60 votes for Supreme Court nominees.
Healthcare. Congressional leaders have signaled that they intend to repeal the Affordable Care Act as one of their first actions in 2017 through a process known as budget reconciliation, which only requires only a majority vote for passage in the Senate and cannot be filibustered. However, congressional Republicans are still debating the legislative text of the repeal and when it would go into effect. At the moment, it appears that the law will be repealed soon after Trump assumes office, but the effective date of the repeal will come two to three years later, which would allow Congress time to craft the law's replacement.
NCSL Contact: Rachel Morgan
DYK (Did You Know)? In response to a petition that garnered the requisite number of signatures, the White House in 2012 expressed opposition to building a "Star Wars"-style Death Star due to cost. They estimated a Death Star would cost approximately $852 quadrillion ($852,000,000,000,000,000), or roughly 13,000 times the world's GDP.
Tax Reform: Can the State and Local Deduction Survive? A comprehensive overhaul to the federal tax code, long a top priority for House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), will also be a top priority for Congress in 2017. Overhauling the corporate tax code with the goal of lowering the corporate tax rate appears to be the central focus of reform, but it is unclear if reform will include a comprehensive rewrite of the personal income tax code and what tax exemptions could be eliminated to pay for the lower rates. Ryan's plan, known as "A Better Way," will likely serve as the starting framework for tax reform. The plan aims to simplify the tax code by eliminating most tax exemptions and aims to incentivize saving and investment. Tax writers are also considering eliminating the State and Local Tax Deduction, which allows individuals to deduct their state and local taxes from their federal taxable income, to offset the cost of lower rates.
NCSL Contact: Max Behlke
Infrastructure Financing or Infrastructure Funding?
While a $1 trillion infrastructure plan was a central tenet of Trump's campaign, it remains to be seen if it will become a priority on Capitol Hill in 2017. Details of Trump's proposal are not yet known, including a major sticking point—how to pay for it. At the moment, it appears that the package could include 1) establishing infrastructure banks, which would use federal funds to attract state and private dollars for investment; 2) a one-time 10 percent tax on offshore business income, known as repatriation, to encourage businesses to bring back their overseas earnings to the U.S.; and/or 3) setting up public-private partnerships to encourage private investment.
NCSL Contacts: Ben Husch, Kristen Hildreth
President Signs 2016 Water Resources Development Act.
On Dec. 10, Congress passed the $10 billion Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act (WIIN Act), which combines the Water Resources Development Act of 2016, along with other infrastructure and ecosystem restoration measures. Overall, the bill authorizes 30 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects and ensures steadily increased funding for the Highway Maintenance Trust Fund. Finally, the legislation also provides $170 million to fund water infrastructure replacement and repair for Flint, Mich., and other communities similarly affected by lead. Additionally, the WIIN Act addresses the regulation of coal ash, directing the Environmental Protection Agency to approve states' proposed coal ash oversight programs, granting states the authority to regulate coal ash through authorized state permit programs.
NCSL Contacts: Ben Husch, Kristen Hildreth
Additional Resources: NCSL Letter to House and Senate on the Water Resources Development Act of 2016
FY 2017 Funding and Pending Debt Limit Increase.
Before Congress left town for the year on Dec. 9, it passed a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the federal government funded through April 28, 2017. The new deadline, a little more than three months into Trump's presidency, will require Congress to pass legislation to keep the government funded through the remainder of the federal fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30. Whether or not Congress will have time to pass appropriations legislation other than another CR remains to be seen, given that for the first part of the year the chamber will be focused on nomination hearings and the new president's agenda.
The new president and Congress will also have to raise the federal debt limit as one of their first major legislative deadlines. Legislation enacted in November 2015 suspended the debt limit, or the amount the federal government is able to borrow, until March 15, 2017. However, the Treasury Department can use accounting tools, called "extraordinary measures," to avoid defaulting on the government's obligations until mid-summer of 2017.
NCSL Contact: Max Behlke
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Capitol to Capitol is a publication of the National Conference of State Legislatures, the premier bipartisan organization representing the interest of states, territories and commonwealths. NCSL is nationally recognized as a formidable lobbying force in Washington, D.C., and works to enhance the role of states and state legislatures in the federal system. NCSL opposes unfunded federal mandates and unwarranted federal pre-emption of state authority, and seeks to provide state legislatures the flexibility they need to innovate and be responsive to the unique needs of the residents of each state. NCSL's advocacy is guided by the policy directives and resolutions adopted during NCSL's Legislative Summit.
NCSL's leadership in Washington D.C.
William Pound, NCSL executive director
Neal Osten, director, NCSL Washington, D.C., office
Molly Ramsdell, director, NCSL Washington, D.C., office