Cabinet Nominees Confirmed; Appropriators Solicit Input on Spending Priorities from Other Members of Congress; Brief Trump Budget Expected in March
After several all-night sessions over the last week, the Senate approved more of President Donald Trump’s cabinet nominees. On February 10, the Senate voted 52-47 in favor of Representative Tom Price’s (R-GA) confirmation as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Dr. Price assumes control of a vast federal department that includes the National Institutes of Health (NIH), among other agencies. On February 13, the Senate unanimously confirmed David Shulkin, MD to be the Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA). Dr. Shulkin served in the Obama administration as Under Secretary of Health for the VA.
While the Senate focused on the Trump cabinet, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) announced that every subcommittee will hold “Member Day” hearings to “allow each Member of the House to have his or her voice heard and to have a hand in crafting 12 appropriations bills that reflect the concerns and priorities of the American people.” Although the Appropriations Committee typically holds hearings featuring agency witnesses discussing the President’s budget request, it has been many years since individual members of Congress have had an opportunity to provide public input on the spending bills. The additional sessions reflect the Chairman’s desire to increase his colleagues’ involvement in the appropriations process before spending legislation is finalized. Testifying at the “Member Days” is an excellent way for legislators who are not on the Appropriations Committees to express their support for NIH and other research agencies. The hearings began on February 15 and will conclude in early March.
In related news, anticipation is building that the Trump administration will submit a fiscal year 2018 budget outline to Congress within “the next few weeks.” There had been speculation that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) would delay delivery of the Trump budget until May in order to have additional time to prepare a more comprehensive plan. Although a full 2018 budget request is still expected in the spring, congressional aides acknowledged they have heard that a brief document providing an overarching view of the President’s spending priorities could arrive in March. Speculation about Trump’s budget grew as the Senate confirmed Representative Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) as OMB Director by a vote of 51-49on February 16.