By Matt Vallone, Senior Analysis Manager
Main Story: 115th Congress Kicks Off
This week marks the start of the 115th Congress. Following a surprising election result that delivered control of the White House, the Senate, and the House of Representatives to the Republican Party, the 115th Congress may bring a significant change to the gridlock and stagnation of the past six years. However, there remain several questions as to how the new Congressional leadership will function, what President-elect Donald Trump’s legislative and policy proposals will look like, and how the White House and Congressional leadership will now interact. After the last election, some humility on predictions is in order, but today’s ‘Political Report’ will lay out what some of the key questions for defense and aerospace are for 2017. In terms of Congressional action, this week will feature the normal swearing-in photo ops and ceremonies, but will also be remarkably busy, as Congressional Republicans work to get started on implementing their agenda.
While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan have been in control of both chambers since January of 2015, the removal of the Democratic White House will mark a significant change in the dynamics around legislating. Whereas the 114th Congress was always to some extent bound by the understanding that the White House would veto conservative legislation that managed to pass through a Democratic filibuster, a Trump White House introduces the very real possibility of signing major conservative priorities into law. Republicans in both the House and Senate are undoubtedly looking forward to advancing legislation on a number of fronts that reflect their priorities. However, unified control of Washington also means that Republicans will be accountable for the downsides of any legislation they pass. Repealing the Affordable Care Act could potentially make insurance unavailable for millions, cutting taxes or increasing defense spending will likely increase the deficit, and, with Democratic cooperation unlikely, Republicans will be responsible for all of it – the upsides and the downsides. If the past is prologue, the House will steam forward with an aggressive conservative agenda, only for a more cautious Senate to become a major bottleneck. How this dynamic ends up working will go a long way to dictating the structure of the next two years.
In addition to seeing how the Republican House and Senate interact, another major question is what, exactly, Trump’s governing priorities will be. During the campaign, Trump was notoriously sparse on policy details (with the significant exception of defense) and, in many cases, he made pledges that will be incredibly difficult to maintain. Putting together a budget proposal will require making the sacrifices and tradeoffs that his campaign managed to avoid: once the rubber meets the road, what priorities will get downgraded? Trump’s proposals for tax cuts, deficit reduction, defense spending, and infrastructure investment cannot all be balanced at the same time. What the Trump White House actually proposes will have a massive impact on what ends up becoming law heading into FY2018.
Lastly, it remains to be seen how President-elect Trump will interact with Congress. His relationship with Republican leadership was spotty during the campaign, but appears to have solidified in the glow of victory. However, as a non-traditional candidate, Trump’s priorities may not fully align with those of Congressional leaders. The last time there was unified Republican control, Congress displayed atypical deference to the White House, largely acquiescing to Bush’s proposals and avoiding aggressive oversight. It’s unclear if a similar scenario would play out now. Republicans in Congress will be anxious to implement their agenda after years of gridlock, while Trump may have differing priorities. The interaction of Congress and the White House will go a long way towards explaining how this session may play out.
- SASC – 1/5 ‘Foreign Cyber Threats to the United States’, Full Committee, 930am, G50 Dirksen
- HASC – No hearing scheduled
- HAC-D – No hearing scheduled
- SAC-D – No hearing scheduled
Government Activity Round-Up
Not much new out of CBO and GAO, which is pretty unsurprising due to the holidays. However, back in December, the GAO released a report on potential issues to consider in restructuring America’s air traffic control systems. Specifically, GAO was tasked with reviewing organizational management, funding and financing, and transition time and costs. Based on GAO’s research they recommended several steps that should be taken in any restructuring to address each of these areas. Full report here.
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