Whether you saw it coming or not, a GOP-dominated Congress will be taking center stage in 2015, causing Capitol Hill staff and lobbyists alike to hold their breaths in anticipation of a legislative sprint in the early months of the new Congress. Both parties have promised compromise without the usual inflammatory caveats, and even Vice President Joe Biden has echoed this sentiment, encouraging Beltway insiders to indulge daydreams of a White House ready to talk business. And with the president still holding the veto card, there is almost no chance of heavily partisan bills being signed into law. Could it be that progress is, at long last, in sight?
In mid-November, both House and Senate Republicans, as well as Senate Democrats, elected members of their leadership teams for the 114th Congress. As expected, there were no surprises that Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, will maintain his role as Speaker of the House, and his Senate counterpart Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was elected to Majority Leader with Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., holding on as Minority Leader. After a brief delay, Democratic leadership in the House was also decided, with Reps. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Steny Hoyer, D-Md., maintaining the number one and two slots which they have held since 2003.
With their leadership teams in place, the power plays for key committee chairmanships shifted into full swing. So what does all this mean for the dietary supplement industry?
For starters, the retirement of Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, one of the industry’s leading congressional advocates, will vacate the chair of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), which oversees the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The seat will be filled by current ranking member, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who has also been a friend to the dietary supplement industry.
Another important chair to be vacated next year is the Senate Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies which has funding jurisdiction over the FDA. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., who previously chaired the subcommittee, lost his bid for re-election. It has not yet been determined if ranking member Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., will be handed the subcommittee gavel.
In addition to Sen. Pryor’s absence from the Appropriations committee, he and several other Democratic Senators will depart from the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee which has legislative jurisdiction and oversight of the Federal Trade Commission. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., will assume the chair, and many of the Republican senators will remain on the roster; however, Democrats lost a total of four existing members which will surely affect the dynamic of the committee next year.
On the Senate Committee on Finance, another industry champion, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, will take the gavel. As one of the original authors of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA), the Senator is our best and longest standing ally in Congress.
The House of Representatives has a lot less shuffling of committee chairs then the Senate, due to their maintaining the majority; however, several important seats will be vacated due to term limitations and retirements, amongst other things. One of the most hotly contested chairmanships was that of Ranking Member for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which was left by retiring Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., who was not traditionally supportive of the industry.
In an unusual move, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi came out in support of Congresswoman Anna G. Eshoo, D-Calif., bucking the committee’s traditional deference to seniority. Industry champion Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., is the number three Democrat on the committee, a more senior position than that of Rep. Eshoo, and was outspoken about his desire to assume the Ranking Member position. In a close vote, Rep. Pallone won his bid for the chair in what many politicos believe to be a test of Leader Pelosi’s influence after the devastating losses suffered by Democrats during the midterm elections. If you remember, NPA supported Rep. Pallone with a fundraiser earlier this year at Ingredient Marketplace.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which oversees all aspects of the government, including the agencies, is currently chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who is term-limited. He voiced his support for Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, to serve as the next chair; however, three other members threw their hats into the ring, with the gavel eventually going to Congressional Dietary Supplement Caucus co-chair, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah.
Another significant chairmanship for the industry is that of the House Ways and Means Committee. Current House Budget Committee chairman, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., won the seat and will chair the committee next Congress.
In regards to legislation, the natural products industry saw a lot of movement during the past two years at the federal level, setting the stage for what will surely be a robust new term. Legislation addressing GMO labeling is a foregone conclusion both in Congress and in state legislatures. A re-introduction of several bills that stalled in the 113th Congress is expected, including a proposal to allow funds in Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) and Health Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) to be used for the purchase of dietary supplements.
The natural products industry is also likely to see comprehensive legislation affecting the cosmetics industry, currently being drafted by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. While the framework of the legislation is still in draft form, the bill will likely focus on safety and accountability for the cosmetics industry through establishing an annual registration process for personal care companies.
Additionally, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce has launched a bipartisan initiative entitled “21st Century Cures” led by committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., and Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo. The committee has solicited public comments on how to “accelerate the discovery, development, and delivery cycle of cures.” After feedback has been gathered from the health care community, including scientists, regulators, patients, and industry experts, legislation will be crafted to address the public’s concerns and streamline the current processes, including those of the FDA. It is widely expected a draft of this bill will not be seen until early in the new Congress.
Regardless of how the Lame Duck shakes out, the 114th Congress is likely to be a vigorous legislative year for our industry, with the potential for much growth. The public and officeholders alike crave real change and economically measurable outcomes. It is a prime opportunity for the industry to push forward, engage its stakeholders, knock on our legislators’ doors and make the ask. Perhaps true progress really is in sight.