Last week several key appointments to the cabinet made progress toward Senate confirmation. It appears that both Congressman Tom Price (R-GA) for the Department of Health and Human Services and Congressmen Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) for the Office of Management and Budget are on schedule for eventual approval by the full Senate however getting there has been wrapped in controversy.
Congressman Price was approved by the Senate Finance Committee along with President Trump’s nominee for Treasury Steven Mnuchin when the Finance Committee approved their nominations with a Republican-only vote last Wednesday.
Last Tuesday, as a protest, Democrats walked out of the Senate Finance Committee hearing before a vote took place. That left only three remaining Republican senators present. In turn that meant there was not a quorum to approve the two nominees. The next day all Republican members of the Committee showed up and the leadership of the Committee found a parliamentary way to suspend the rules that requires at least one minority member to be present. As a result, the two nominations were approved by all Republican Committee members and the nominees were sent to the Senate floor for the next step of approval.
On Friday, the Senate voted 52 to 47 to cut-off debate (i.e. filibuster) on the Price nomination which means a final vote could take place this week or next.
In another area, the nominee for the Department of Education is facing a controversial but likely path forward. The nomination of Betsy DeVos is the first nominee for any of the cabinet positions by President Trump who has garnered Republican opposition. Both Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AS) and Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) announced that they will vote against DeVos on the Senate floor. All Democrats are expected vote against her and that would leave a 50-50 vote leaving Vice President Mike Pence to break the tie. That means that the Senate may have to wait to approve Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) for the Department of Justice until they have approved DeVos. Sessions’ expected approval will leave a Senate of 99 members and one Republican vote short—at least for a few days.
The other major Cabinet appointment CWLA is monitoring is that of Congressman Mulvaney for Budget. Like HHS his position requires two committee hearings and he made it out of committee late last week. Despite the delays at HHS, if Price is approved it would be ahead of schedule of eight years ago, when Governor Kathleen Sibelius was nominated for HHS Secretary after President Obama’s first nominee, Senator Tom Daschle had withdrawn his name from nomination due to a tax issue.
Both Price and Mulvaney will be critical in formatting the next budget (FY 2018) which will provide the first glimpse of the President Trump approach to funding levels for the future. It is anticipated the budget will be released at some point in March. Although a new President’s budget is somewhat transitional from the previous Administration it should send a signal on budget allocations, possible block grants and future regulations. The March budget will likely be closely related to the President’s scheduled address to a joint session of the Congress on February 28.