Week in Review

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Senate passes budget resolution aimed at beginning repeal of Affordable Care Act, Senate confirmation hearings for Cabinet appointees begin, and more…

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  • Following hours of back-to-back votes on amendments, the U.S. Senate voted along party lines to approve a budget resolution—the first step towards repeal of all or some of the Affordable Care Act—via a process called budget reconciliation, which requires only a majority vote in the Senate and cannot be filibustered. Republican Senators reportedly claimed to be acting with a mandate following the 2016 election, but several Democratic Senators voiced opposition to the vote.
  • Despite concerns over ethics agreements and financial disclosures, confirmation hearings for President-elect Trump’s Cabinet nominees began this week. Hearings took place for Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the nominee for Attorney General; former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, the nominee for Secretary of State; and retired Marine General James Mattis, the nominee for Secretary of Defense, whose confirmation would require waiving a law that forces Defense Secretaries to have been retired from military service for at least seven years. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) personally testified against Sen. Sessions, a move Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) reportedly called a “disgraceful breach of custom.”
  • Dr. Ben Carson, President-elect Trump’s nominee to lead the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), reportedly asserted that federal housing regulations are to blame for “entrenching racial segregation” in poor communities during his Senate confirmation hearing. At the hearing, Carson reportedly fielded questions from Senators on the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, as well as HUD’s recent rule banning smoking in public housing, among other housing regulation issues.
  • President-elect Trump announced his selection of Dr. David Shulkin to lead the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Shulkin currently serves as Under Secretary for Health at the VA, a position for which he was nominated by President Obama. Shulkin’s nomination reportedly received bipartisan support, but he would also be the first VA Secretary without a military service background.
  • Two major developments in the Volkswagen emissions scandal occurred this week: Volkswagen agreed to plead guilty and pay a $2.8 billion criminal penalty, as well as $1.5 billion in civil damages, as part of a settlement with the federal government arising out of the company’s alleged cheating on vehicle emissions tests, and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced criminal charges against six of the company’s executives. In addition, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a notice of violation to Fiat Chrysler, alleging that the company used software to cheat on emissions tests—allegations similar to those made against Volkswagen.
  • In anticipation of President-elect Trump making a nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, the conservative Judicial Crisis Network reportedly plans to spend “at least $10 million” in an effort to convince Democrats in the Senate to vote in favor of confirming the President-elect’s nominee. The group reportedly will focus on “Democrats up for reelection in states that Trump won” in the presidential election and other “moderate” Democratic Senators.
  • David Michaels, the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, reportedly promised to take action to protect healthcare workers from violence. In a letter to the AFL-CIO, Michaels reportedly pointed to evidence that “indicates that the rate of workplace violence in the healthcare and social assistance sector is substantially higher than private industry as a whole,” before reportedly pledging to initiate the rulemaking process to address this issue.


  • In a forthcoming article for the Yale Journal on Regulation, Professor Cary Coglianese of the University of Pennsylvania Law School and Jennifer Nash of Harvard Business School provide “an in-depth retrospective study of the federal government’s efforts to regulate diesel emissions” in order to draw lessons about performance-based regulation. The paper reveals that, because performance-based regulation offers flexibility to private sector firms, it may enable firms to take actions that meet the standards but “confound regulators’ broader policy objectives.”
  • Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) released the second installment of his “Wastebook” series, which provides information on 50 “questionable expenditures lurking throughout the federal budget.” Among the expenditures included in Sen. Flake’s document are $80.4 million on a rocket launch facility in Alaska that Sen. Flake reports is “rarely used,” $74 million on a program that allows federal farm loans to be repaid in peanuts, and $1.5 million on a study that tested the endurance of the mudskipper fish.
  • In a recent essay appearing in the conservative National Review, James Capretta, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the Ethics and Public Policy Center, hailed what he characterized as Republicans’ unique opportunity to reform healthcare and thereby “rein in the sprawling federal welfare state,” but argued that healthcare reform is fraught with political controversy and that there is no “silver bullet” solution. He argued that Republicans need a replacement plan before repealing the Affordable Care Act, and that “one coherent reform plan” rather than a series of “incremental” pieces of legislation is needed.