Washington Update

The 2016 election season is finally behind us and after nearly two years of talking, we learned that the rules as Washington had known them have changed. President–elect Trump won the election in the most unconventional way that this country has ever witnessed. In a sense, Mr. Trump not only beat the Democrats, but also he beat the establishment Republicans as well. When most traditional Republicans were running as far away from Mr. Trump as possible without alienating their own base, Trump was racking up electoral college wins in states that Republican Presidential candidates hadn’t won during the last several elections – North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Florida, to name a few.

That said, there are a few remaining items that Congress has to pass before the 114th Congress concludes for the year. The term used for the work that Congress does in the time period after the election and until the next Congress convenes is known as a ‘lame duck’ session of Congress. This lame duck session will likely see a minimum of legislative activity focused on keeping the Federal government open among a few other legislative priorities. The effects of the Trump election will be felt when the Congress reconvenes for the 115th Congressional session.

With that said, here are a few legislative items that will get likely get done in December:

Budget and Appropriations

The Federal fiscal year runs from October 1 through September 30. The current legislation that has kept the government running since the beginning of fiscal year 2017 – commonly known as the Continuing Resolution or CR – will expire on December 9th. The CR that will be debated in the House on December 8 will fund the government at a total level – Defense and non–Defense – of $1.07 trillion. Within the funding resolution, for example, the Food Safety and Inspection Service was funded at $1.015 billion in fiscal year 2016, so they will be funded at that same level during the time period of the CR. Congressional leaders in both the House and Senate have agreed with President–elect Trump to set the date of this CR through April 28, 2017. The Senate will likely take up, and quickly pass, the legislation on December 9th, and send it to the President to avert a government shutdown.

While we still don’t know what impact the Trump administration will have on food safety activities, we would expect that things would remain status quo in this area. One thing that will be on our radar is if the new administration attempts to find funding to ‘build the wall’ then there is a possibility that Federal agencies may have to absorb an across–the–board cut to pay for it.

The House and Senate Agriculture Appropriations subcommittees continue to be focused on Food Safety Modernization Act implementation. While the FDA has stepped up and gotten a few more regulations on the books, there is still more work to be done on Third–Party audit regulations. With that said, the House Subcommittee report accompanying their fiscal year 2017 appropriations bill points out that the Congress has provided FDA with a food safety funding increase of nearly $340 million since FSMA was signed into law.

National Defense

The Defense Authorization bill has been signed into law for 54 consecutive years, and there is no reason to believe that this year will not make it 55. The bill passed the House by a vote of 375–34, and the Senate is scheduled to pass it by December 9 and then send it to the president. Funding for the Overseas Contingency Operations/Global War on Terrorism (OCO/GWOT) account has been the largest barrier to getting the bill done. The final bill includes an additional $3.2 billion for military readiness above what the President requested, and it includes $5.8 billion in supplemental funds for a higher rate of operations against terrorist activities in Syria and Iraq.

Tax Credits

36 different tax credits or incentives expire on December 31, 2016, including a number of renewable or alternative energy credits, employment and training credits, a deduction for qualified tuition, and empowerment zone tax incentives. Dozens of conservative groups, including Americans for Prosperity and Heritage Action, have already signed a letter calling on Senate Majority Leader McConnell and Speaker Ryan to exclude the reauthorization of renewable energy tax credits from any spending deal. There was some speculation that the Continuing Resolution to keep the government open would include extensions of some of these provisions; however, the final version did not include any such provisions.

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