By Lewis-Burke Associates LLC | November 17, 2016
After a historic presidential campaign period, Donald Trump will be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States in January 2017. Although President-Elect Trump expressed some clear positions for his term, the public is aware of the general contours but not in-depth specifics. Existing congressional Republican priorities and policies may, but are not certain to, be adopted by the Trump White House.
Beyond the presidential race, voters re-elected Republican majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, which means the United States will have one-party governance for the first time since President Obama's first two years in office. In 2009–2010, Democrats used their unified majorities to pass sweeping legislation such as the economic stimulus package, the Affordable Care Act, and Wall Street financial reforms. Similarly, passage of legislation will take on a heightened role with Republicans now at the helm of the White House and Congress. What isn't clear is the extent to which the Trump Administration will be setting the legislative agenda beyond a few key interests in health care, immigration, and infrastructure.
Until the incoming administration has an opportunity to shape its first budget request to Congress, many of the existing programs around which day-to-day grants and contracts interactions occur will likely continue. After the new White House has a chance to populate the agencies with new appointees and put its own imprint on them, some of these programs may change, but many of them may emerge from the process unaltered.
Trump Administration Outlook: Impact on Research, Education, and Health Care
Shifting from the campaign to the transition, President-Elect Trump will turn to filling senior and political posts within his administration, developing specific policy proposals and strategies, and deciding on early initiatives beyond his inauguration on January 20. As mentioned earlier, the Trump campaign has highlighted some key legislative priorities, such as reducing immigration and strengthening border security, lowering taxes, renewing and developing infrastructure, and repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act (ACA). His proposed policies have not been fleshed out with respect to education, science, technology, or a replacement for the ACA. Therefore, much is still unknown about how the Trump Administration would treat universities and the research and health-care communities. As the transition team and the new administration refine their policy agenda, prioritize actions for early legislative activities, and identify agency and White House leadership, the ensuing months will be a critical period for universities and science organizations to engage and offer suggestions for agency and White House leadership positions as well as for input on emerging initiatives. At the same time, it is important for the community to assess Trump's positions as more details emerge and to decide where and how best to concentrate energy with respect to key priorities.
Although much is still unknown about President-Elect Trump's approach to research, education, and health care, initial information has emerged in each area as to potential policy approaches and initiatives. Current knowledge about how the Trump Administration might treat each area is included below.
Research, science, and technology have not been high-profile issues for the Trump campaign, yet he has recently outlined some key foci and general thinking by means of policy advisers and responses to questionnaires such as Science Debate (see https://www.sciencedebate.org/2016-answers-release). President-Elect Trump has been clear that although the constrained fiscal environment will require prioritization, he views investment in academic research and space exploration as critical roles for the federal government and appropriate areas for long-term investment. He has also noted a few major challenge areas that could become areas of focus for his administration, such as cybersecurity, defense research, clean water, energy independence, and feeding the world, with a special emphasis on the role of agriculture.
In particular, in the area of space policy, the campaign has outlined a more detailed vision through adviser and former Congressman Robert Walker that would include an increase in deep-space exploration and a focus on hypersonics technology at the expense of Earth science (see http://spacenews.com/what-a-trump-administration-means-for-space). Past Republican administrations have specifically emphasized basic research but also deprioritized applied research, environmental sciences, and social and behavioral sciences, and this is a potential approach of the Trump Administration as well.
The next presidential administration is likely to have a strong voice in issues pertaining to higher education, although details from President-Elect Trump are scarce. As would be the case in any administration, higher-education policymaking is complicated by diverse factions within the community, each of which has unique and sometimes conflicting interests. These different groups include public and private nonprofit institutions of higher education, for-profit institutions, students, elite research universities, liberal arts institutions, and community colleges.
Trump has not provided detailed plans for higher-education reform, but he has referenced tenets of the Republican Party's platform, including support for eliminating or reducing the power of the Department of Education, returning the student loan system to the private sector, reducing the breadth of the H-1B visa program, and eliminating the gainful employment mandate. President-Elect Trump has also expressed interest in decentralizing the role of the federal government in areas such as accreditation, which will increase the role of states and the private sector.
One of the more concrete education proposals offered by Trump is an income-based repayment plan for federal student debt. He proposes that payments be capped at 12.5% of income per month and that debt be forgiven after 15 years of steady repayment. The current Revised Pay As You Earn plan (REPAYE) caps payments at 10% of monthly income and forgives student debt after 20 years. President-Elect Trump has also said he would consider the tax-exempt status of large endowments as an incentive to lower student costs. He has expressed interest in reforming and reducing federal regulations on universities. Further, there is a potential for a Trump Administration to counteract what it sees as regulatory overreach taken by the Department of Education under the Obama Administration, such as its rules on gainful employment, teacher preparation programs, and the Department of Labor's rule on overtime pay.
President-Elect Trump has emphasized his intention to repeal ACA as an early priority for his administration. He is expected to work with Republicans in Congress to repeal certain provisions and may use the reconciliation process to do it, which requires only a simple majority in both chambers. However, this may ultimately be a longer-term effort, as Republicans will have to think strategically about how to dismantle the law while replacing it with other policies that could lessen the impact on those who have gained health coverage under the ACA.
Although the president-elect has not offered specifics for any sort of alternative health-care plan, there will likely be a push to grant more flexibility to states to administer their own health-care programs, as well as a move to encourage people to purchase health insurance across state lines. In addition, Trump has indicated his support for the distribution of Medicaid block-grants to states in place of the ACA Medicaid expansion, a position also supported by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI).
Other health-care issues that may be a priority for the president-elect include more transparency in pricing among health-care providers; addressing prescription drug prices, possibly through drug importation; and mental-health reform, likely starting with efforts already under way in Congress. President-Elect Trump is also expected to continue efforts to address the opioid epidemic and has expressed his support for the bipartisan passage of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA).
Top Congressional Issues To Be Addressed in the Lame-Duck 2016 Session
With less than 30 days until the current fiscal year spending resolution expires, congressional leaders have not signaled how much they intend to accomplish before adjourning for the year and ending the lame-duck session. High-priority issues on the table include the following:
Annual appropriations legislation, which could be resolved through an omnibus "catchall" spending package, a year-long Continuing Resolution, or some combination of the two. Members of Congress have spoken of the need to dispense with fiscal year 2017 funding ahead of the next Congress, but the politics of whether only some agencies could receive a full-year bill complicate the process.
21st Century Cures legislation, which would require changes to the Food and Drug Administration's approval process for drugs and medical devices and also potentially boost spending for the National Institutes of Health. Leaders on both sides have expressed a desire to finalize and pass this legislation, but the nature and offsets for new funding are still undecided, and it may get punted to the next Congress, at which time prescription drug legislation is set to be considered.
Tax extenders are routinely a year-end priority, with many in 2016 impact energy and home mortgage sectors. However, the expectation that a new Congress could embrace tax reform may delay this issue until 2017.
Aid to Flint, MI, and Defense Authorization legislation are two additional items that must be dealt with in the lame-duck session. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) legislation has passed every year for many decades, and the Republican leadership likely will not want to break that trend this year. The assistance for Flint as well as any additional assistance for hurricane victims may be combined with other supplemental spending for the Department of Defense related to war-time operations.
Ultimately, how productive the lame-duck session will be is still largely unknown and will be complicated by considerations as to whether the Republicans will continue to support Paul Ryan as Speaker of the House for the 115th Congress.
Although Republicans will retain control of both the House and the Senate, Democrats made gains in both chambers. The Senate will be composed of at least 51 Republicans, 46 Democrats, and two Independents, the latter of whom caucus with Democrats. The Louisiana Senate seat will not be decided until a December runoff. In the Senate, Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will return as the Majority Leader, and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) replaces the retiring Harry Reid (D-NV) as Minority Leader.
At the time of this writing, the House will be composed of at least 239 Republicans and 193 Democrats, with several races yet to be called and Republicans far surpassing the necessary 218 members to retain control of the majority. House Republicans and Democrats are expected to meet in November to elect their respective party leaders. There is heavy speculation as to what a Trump Administration will mean for House Speaker Paul Ryan, given his lukewarm support for President-Elect Donald Trump during the campaign. However, Speaker Ryan has recently publicly increased his support for Trump, making it unclear whether Trump's win will affect his position as Speaker. With respect to the Democratic leadership, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is expected to retain her role as Minority Leader.
Lewis-Burke Associates LLC, a leading Washington, D.C.-based government relations and consulting firm, represents the public policy interests of scientific societies and institutions of higher education. Lewis-Burke's staff of about 20 government relations professionals work to promote the federal research and policy goals of HFES and the HF/E community.