The Republicans won. That’s the common 2014 election summary. When majorities in Congress change, committee leadership also changes. The results of individual races may also affect party rankings, especially within committees. The landscape of certain committees can greatly impact the dietary supplement industry, but a few retirements to key allies and foes may amplify the power plays and, ultimately, supplement regulation.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), industry champion
Sens. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and John Dingell (D-MI), industry critics
Senate HELP (Health, Education, Labor and Pensions) committee – oversight of FDA; Harkin’s retirement coupled with the new Republican majority is expected to result in Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) as the new chair. Alexander and his staff have been receptive to dietary supplement issues.
Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), a member of both HELP and the Dietary Supplement Caucus (DSC), won reelection.
Senate Finance – jurisdiction over tax and other economic issues; industry champion Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) is expected to become chairman. He has routinely introduced bills for including dietary supplements as covered expenses for flexible spending account (FSA) and health savings account (HSA) programs. “To some degree he is looking to fix the whole economy, so what role supplements play in that is to be determined," said Dan Fabricant, CEO and executive director of the Natural Products Association (NPA). “[Supplements] might not be the main thrust, but [Hatch] understands the economic drivers there, the benefits, job creation, things like that."
Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation – FTC oversight; majority change is expected to result in Sen. John Thune (R-SD) as chair, with Bill Nelson (D-FL) as ranking member. Democrats are losing Sens. Jay Rockefeller (WV, retirement), Mark Pryor (AR, failed reelection) and Mark Begich (AK, failed reelection) from this committee. Dean Heller (R-NV) is expected to chair the subcommittee with direct FTC oversight. “Heller was very critical of Dr. Oz at the recent weight supplement hearing, and he asked very good questions of FTC, so there is a tremendous opportunity there," Fabricant said.
Senate Appropriations – budgets and funding for agencies. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) will lose her chair to Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) due to the majority change. Cochran has been receptive to industry colleagues at Ole Miss, home to the National Center for Natural Products Research.
Senate Agriculture - Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) won a tough reelection and will chair the committee. As a former member of the HELP committee, he was friendly to supplement issues.
House Energy and Commerce – primary oversight of both FTC and FDA; Vying for Waxman’s spot as ranking member is supplement industry champion and DSC Co-Chair Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ). He is the most senior Democrat on the committee and has the support of Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD). He faces a stiff challenge from Rep. Anna Eschoo (D-CA), who has strong support from Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who has written multiple letters to Democrats backing her friend and fellow Californian.
In addition, the committee is losing Utah Democrat Rep. Jim Matheson (retirement), who has been a supplement industry supporter and a member of the DSC. Rep-elect Mia Love (R-UT) won Matheson’s vacate seat, and The American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) expressed optimism Love will join the DSC and support the supplement industry, which is extensive in her district.
House Oversight and Government Reform – powerful committee in charge of investigations and government-wide oversight; Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) is stepping down due to term limitations. Industry champion and DSC Co-Chair Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) is seen as a frontrunner for the gavel, but he is facing a tough challenge from Ohioans Jim Jordan and Mike Turner. The steering committee vote is expected to follow Speaker Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), who has not publicly leaned one way or the other. Thus, you have Pelosi and Boehner each potentially deciding key committee leadership races involving DSC co-chairs.
Key Congressional Races
Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY), who was once a HELP member and has been supportive of supplement issues, won reelection.
Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO) won his Senate election, so will switch chambers in 2015. He was supportive and open to dietary supplement issues while in the House, where he was a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee.
Check out the Senate Scorecard from NPA.
Rep-elect Debbie Dingell (D-MI), won her husband’s vacant seat. She was his closest advisor and is expected to seek his seat on Energy and Commerce.
Dietary Supplement Caucus
The DSC came through the election relatively unscathed, losing only one member to election loss: Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH). The DSC also will lose a seat from Harkin’s retirement. “The majority of the DSC members are from the House, and many House incumbents won in the election," Fabricant said.
“We will also encourage involvement in the Dietary Supplement Caucus, which grew in 2014 and will continue to grow in 2015," said Steve Mister, president and CEO of the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN). He noted the start to 2015 will be very busy, with 66 newly elected freshmen between the House and Senate. “Our goal, which we know is achievable from years past, is to visit every new member and educate them of the vast benefits and value of our products."
The influx of new members points to the need for increased advocacy, including fly-in days held by industry trade associations in Washington DC.
Check out the House DSC Scorecard from NPA.
All the new faces also mean there will be even fewer members in Congress who were around when DSHEA passed. Loren Israelsen, president of the United Natural Products Alliance (UNPA), explained the retirements of key players in DSHEA, including Harkin and frequent opponents Reps. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and John Dingell (D-MI) will have a substantial impact on the supplement industry. “First, there will be a substantial loss of institutional knowledge about DSHEA and its origins," he said. “This underscores the need for us to continue our efforts to engage and educate our congressional representatives about our industry, our consumers and the importance of DSHEA to them. It also highlights the importance of the UNPA’s state chapter initiative to build durable support for our industry at the local level. That is key to our future strength in Congress."
GMO labeling legislation initiatives on the state level have seen mixed results, including mandatory GMO labeling referendum failures in Oregon and Colorado in this recent election, and the passage of a GMO crop ban in the local election on Maui, Hawaii (a court case in Kauai, Hawaii on mandatory disclosure of pesticides and GMO crops is facing appeal.)
What do these repeated failures in state-level referendums mean for GMO labeling?
“We are at a bit of an impasse," Fabricant said. “GMO labeling should really be a federal issue, but I still don’t know, even with all these state campaigns, if people really know what a GMO is." He predicted the discussion on GMOs will not go away, but there will be more pressure on the federal government to create legislation.
Window of Opportunity
Whether GMOs, agency oversight or any potential industry-related legislation, how the election affects the natural products and dietary supplement industries may be determined by the short window the new Congress will have to show it can get things done. Fabricant explained with one party controlling the political view of both chambers of Congress, there tends to be more compromise and offer more to get bills passed. AHPA noted despite the new majority in the Senate, the Republicans don’t have the 60 votes to prevent filibustering or the 67 votes to override Presidential veto. Thus, the two sides will have to work together to get things done, and the Republicans will be eager to show they can govern.
Fabricant suggested the new Congress will hit the ground running, as things in DC tend to slow down once Presidential candidates officially enter the race. “Once candidates announce their legislative agendas, the national party leadership want to make sure the agenda is intact, so things in DC tend to slow down," he explained. The new Congress might have 100 to 120 days to get things done. Further, Republicans will have to defend 45 seats in the Senate next election, while only 10 Democrats will face Senate reelection. Factor in the likelihood a number of Senators will run for President, and more seats could be contested in 2016.
So there is a bit of a wait-and-see mentality for how the election will affect the industry, but once the Congress gets quickly into the swing of things, there will be little time to educate and influence legislators.
Check out NPA's Election Day Recap.