Incoming Republican and Democratic members of Congress pose for a group photograph on the steps of the House of Representatives November 15, 2016 in Washington, DC. Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla

USDA confirmations may stretch into spring

Legislative Watch: House Republicans plan to expedite legislation that addresses over-regulatory burden by the Obama administration.

Still seeking the right person for a Secretary of Agriculture

President-elect Donald Trump continues to meet with potential secretary of agriculture candidates. Last week he met with Elsa Murano, former USDA under secretary for food safety; Susan Combs, former Texas commissioner of agriculture and former Texas comptroller of public accounts; former Congressman Henry Bonilla (R-TX) who served as chairman of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee while in Congress; and former California Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado. Trump’s key staff met with Sid Miller, Texas commissioner of agriculture. 

Besides choosing the next secretary of agriculture, Trump will need to name a number of other key USDA positions including deputy secretary of agriculture, under secretary for farm and foreign agriculture, under secretary for food safety, under secretary for rural development, etc. 

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, wants the committee to hold confirmation hearings on the nominees as soon as possible. We can expect confirmation hearings on USDA nominees throughout the early part of 2017 and could carry into spring.

House Republicans to go after regulations

The House Republican leadership plans to expedite legislation that addresses the over-regulatory burden by the Obama administration. The bills to be considered include the REINS Act and the Midnight Rules Act. REINS Act, “The Regulations From the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act,” would require any executive branch rule or regulation with an annual economic impact of $100 million or more be designated as a “major rule” and would have to be approved by Congress before it could go into effect. The Midnight Rules Act would allow Congress to nix en masse regulations issued late in President Obama’s term. There have been numerous complaints by Republicans, agriculture and business that the Obama administration rushed some last minute rules through the system in the last 60 days of its term. We can expect regulations to be a major item for President-elect Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress. This was a major campaign issue for Trump. 

115th Congress begins

The 115th Congress will be sworn-in Jan. 3 with seven new Senators and 52 new Congressmen. The House and Senate Republican leadership plan a very hectic schedule for the first few months.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) wants the Senate to move as quickly as possible on confirming President-elect Trump’s cabinet nominees. Senate Democrats have indicated they want adequate time to review the nominees' financial disclosures and FBI background checks and enough time at the confirmation hearings to fully consider the nominees.

Various nominees are expected to face tough questioning from Democrats over their previous activities and views. These include secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson over his ties to Russia; secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price on his plans for health care; Labor nominee Andrew Puzder on his views of minimum wage and labor law; Environmental Protection Agency nominee Scott Pruitt on his environmental record and views; etc.

Incoming presidents historically get their cabinet nominees confirmed. There have been only five nominees who withdrew their nominations and only one nominee — Sen. John Tower (R-TX) for secretary of Defense in 1989 was rejected.

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