Congress and Agencies Examining Priorities for 2017

As the U.S. Senate confirms nominees to lead Cabinet-level agencies and the Trump Administration fills in policy leadership in Washington, DC, both Congress and the Agencies are laying out their top priorities for 2017.  Approving nominations, including a potential Supreme Court nominee, will occupy much of the Senate’s time for the next 100 days.  However, leadership in the Administration, Senate, and House of Representatives are already laying out an aggressive agenda for the coming year that may include healthcare and tax reform, renegotiation of trade agreements, and rolling back rulemakings of the previous Obama Administration.

TAX:  House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX/8th) spoke to a gathering of businesses leaders at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, January 24,, 2017.  In his remarks, Brady laid out an aggressive agenda for the chief tax-writing committee in the House of Representatives. Repeal of the Affordable Care Act will be the top priority for the Committee, followed by pursuing the aggressive tax reform blueprint laid out in the “A Better Way” tax proposal from House Republican Leadership.  One notably contentious provision from this proposal is a new $1.2 trillion Border Adjustable Tax.  This tax, which would impose a 20 percent tax on imports and provide an exemption for all export-related income, has raised concerns in the business community about protectionism and a forced realignment of global supply chains.

TRADE:  In addition to tax and healthcare, a signature issue during the 2016 Presidential campaign was the renegotiation of multilateral trade agreements, including NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada), in favor of bilateral agreements.  One of the first actions of the new Trump Administration was withdrawing the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which was negotiated between twelve countries which together represent approximately 40% of the world’s economic output.  Prior to the election, free-trade agreements had been a top priority for many pro-business Republicans and Democrats for decades.  Many senior leaders in the House and Senate on both sides of the aisle supported NAFTA, CAFTA (the Central American Free Trade Agreement, which was an expansion of NAFTA to five Central American nations and the Dominican Republic), and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  Withdrawing from these various multi-lateral trade agreements could have a major impact on supply chains and consumer costs, depending on how any change is implemented.

REGULATIONS:  On Friday, January 19, 2017, President Trump issued an executive order to all federal agencies directing them to freeze any new regulations pending further review from the new Administration.  While there is an exception for regulations that impact “health, safety, financial or national security matters,” it is unclear how this freeze will impact transportation regulations.  Major rules such as the mandate for Electronic Logging Devices by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the Sanitary Transport of Human and Animal Food rule by the Food and Drug Administration, were finalized early enough in the Obama Administration that this freeze will have no effect and those rules will continue to be fully implemented.

Rulemakings that were not completed by the Obama Administration such as the Safety Fitness Determination Rulemaking at FMCSA will likely not go forward until the new Administration has reviewed the issues.  Similarly, an indefinite delay on the implementation of the Unified Registration System (URS), will remain until the new Administration is able to fully implement the electronic system required by its own rulemaking.