- The US Senate continues to confirm President Trump’s cabinet nominees. The Secretary of Labor position remains unfilled following the abrupt withdrawal of President Trump’s original DOL nominee, Andrew Puzder. President Trump has since nominated labor attorney Alexander Acosta, currently Dean of FIU Law School, for the DOL Secretary position. His nomination is more mainstream and confirmation should occur before the Easter recess in April. His confirmation hearing in the Senate HELP Committee has yet to be scheduled.
- Betsy DeVos has been confirmed as the Secretary of Education. There is very little political staff at the Department but we expect her deputies to be named shortly, including an Assistant Secretary for career, Technical, and Adult Education.
- The Trump Administration plans to release a ‘skinny budget,’ which addresses mainly top line federal spending numbers, for Fiscal Year 2018, on March 16th. The Administration has stated it will request an increase of $54 billion for the Department of Defense. That translates to less money for domestic federal programs and we are expecting a 10% across-the-board cuts with advanced cuts coming from the EPA and State Department.
- Opposition to the skinny budget has already emerged from both political parties but it shows a stark shift in spending priorities. While we expect the skinny budget in mid-March, the more detailed budget proposal will not be available until May 2017.
- Defense appropriators released a compromise spending measure for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2017 that would increase defense spending by $2-4 billion over current levels. The DoD Appropriations Bill could eventually be a vehicle that carries additional appropriations bills to fund the federal government after April 28, 2017, the current deadline of the Continuing Resolution.
- The next two months will be spent finalizing Republican plans to repeal/replace Obamacare and finding the right vehicle to fund the federal government. The healthcare plan being drafted by Republicans has met considerable opposition from its own party but the House is still predicting it will pass a measure by the end of March.
- With respect to federal appropriations, Senate Democrats will need to decide if they are willing to accept the increased defense spending without more domestic dollars. Republicans will be reluctant to add money on the domestic side given existing budget caps. That is the main crux of the negotiations over the next two months.
- The focus on appropriations highlights the need for business engagement letters from our system supporting the critical work of workforce development boards.