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Opinion: What can you expect to happen in 2017 on Capitol Hill?

When President-elect Donald J. Trump is sworn in on Jan. 20, Republicans will control the White House and both chambers of Congress for the first time since early 2007. Many GOP leaders are “chomping at the bit” for change, anxious to move forward with a rather long list of reforms, including the removal of several federal regulations, repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act and passing comprehensive tax reform.

But not all of Republicans have the same sense of urgency or share the same perspectives as their new party leader. In fact, we are already seeing some push-back from a few Republicans who are worried about the budgetary impact of some of their proposed legislation.

Plus, starting the week of January 8th, Senate Committees will be busy holding confirmation hearings, learning more about whether they want to approve Trump’s nominees to lead key agencies.sara-wyant-new

So where to start? One of the quickest ways to have impact out in farm country may be to work on the regulatory front. A group of more than 50 farm organizations and companies has already pulled together their wish list of regulations that they see as duplicative, costly and unnecessary, says Daren Coppock, CEO of the Agricultural Retailers Association.

That paper says that over the years, “Republican and Democratic presidents alike have reiterated the desirability and need for an honest, transparent, open and credible regulatory process.” 

At the top of the regulations targeted by the groups is the EPA’s Waters of the U.S. rule, or WOTUS, which has been stayed by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.

“I think it can be fairly well concluded that it’s not going to happen,” Coppock told participants at his annual conference last month.

Another example would be National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits required for pesticide applications in some states.

“The NPDES rule is a great example, where you have to get permits for application of pesticides that are already regulated under FIFRA,” Coppock said, referring to the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act. “That extra layer of regulation provides absolutely no safety benefit. All it does is expose people to more litigation risk and cost. That’s the kind of stuff that needs to be cleaned out.”

The U.S. House of Representatives will start work on removing regulatory burdens yet this week, with plans to vote on a bill known as the REINS Act, short for “Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act.”

The legislation would require that both the House and Senate vote on major new regulations and require the president’s signature before they can be enacted. Later in the week, the House also plans to vote on a measure to allow Congress to repeal a block of regulations at one time.

However, neither measure is expected to gain enough traction in the Senate, where Republicans hold a 52-person majority – not the 60 votes needed to overcome any expected filibusters.

Another “tool” to repeal regulations is the 1996 Congressional Review Act, also known as the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act.  The CRA was originally passed as part of then-Speaker Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America,” to stop regulations from going into effect within 60 session days of a new regulation coming out of the Executive Branch. But this too, has had limited success.

Once Trump is in office, Republicans are more likely to find a willing partner – and signer – for their CRA repeal efforts – at least for rules made since June of 2016.

After an initial push to start rolling back a wide variety of regulations, you can expect the GOP-controlled Congress to work on getting rid of the Affordable Care Act, widely known as “Obamacare,” and also take a shot at tax reform. Tackling these two will take a lot longer because of the complex nature of each piece of legislation.

Consider that more than 19 million people who previously did not have health insurance are now covered by the law. So repealing it – without a good replacement mechanism – would generate a political firestorm and some of the same types of industry and patient turmoil that accompanied the law when it was first rolled out.

Look for the Senate, and later the House, to quickly approve a nonbinding budget resolution that will instruct committees to draft repeal legislation. Those committee proposals can be approved under budget reconciliation and avoid the need for 60 votes in the Senate.

But at present, there seems to be little consensus on proposals to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act – even within the GOP. Some Republicans want to repeal a few provisions immediately, with other parts of the law being replaced in 2-3 years or even longer. Popular provisions, like those that let children under 26 remain on a parent’s plan, could be continued.

The one thing we can absolutely say for certain is that there will be plenty to write about in 2017, so stay tuned as the year unfolds.

By: Sara Wyant

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Terry Simmons