An Assessment and Outlook of the Political and Regulatory Climate for 2017

By Pete Evich, AAHP government relations
January 1, 2017

The election of Donald Trump and a Republican-controlled Congress will mark a change from the “divided government” norm that has reigned over Washington during the last six years. While the new political environment will be more favorable toward business in general, how this change will specifically impact regulatory policy affecting the homeopathic industry is yet to be known.

While Donald Trump is perhaps the most unique and independent-minded candidate to ever win election to the U.S. presidency, his overall outlook toward governance is largely in line with traditional republican principles. One area where this is most evident has been Trump’s position on government regulation. A key tenet of Trump’s campaign was to undo several of the Obama Administration’s key regulatory initiatives. In the soon-to-commence Republican-led 115th Congress, Trump will have an eager and willing partner to help advance his de-regulatory agenda. Additionally, the Republican Congress is expected to enact fiscally austere budgets that will constrain funding to most federal agencies. This downward pressure on federal agency budgets could translate into less regulatory enforcement in some sectors.

Specifically related to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), on September 15, 2016, candidate Trump issued a position paper in which he described the agency’s work as “inspection overkill.” However, due to broad criticism, this position paper was removed from his platform. While it is highly unlikely that the Trump Administration will seek wholesale budget cuts at FDA, the initial issuance of this position can be seen as the incoming administration’s “impulse,” and may indicate an unwillingness to consider additional increases in the FDA’s budget. It should be noted though that due to its public health mission, the FDA is usually less maligned by Congressional Republicans than most other federal agencies. However, this will not immunize the FDA from being scrutinized over potential regulatory overreach and funding retrenchments.

Given the 2015 FDA public hearings on the regulation of homeopathy, the AAHP is keeping a close pulse on the impact and opportunities that will unfold for the homeopathic industry in light of the new Administration and dynamics associated with the GOP-led 115th Congress. At this time, it is unknown who the incoming administration will tap to lead the FDA, or pick to head the key politically appointed offices within the agency, such as the director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.

As it relates to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the incoming Trump Administration will have a definite impact on the make-up of the five-member Commission. As a result of early resignations, there are two vacancies in the Commission. This has left the Commission with only three serving Commissioners since March of 2016. Of the three existing Commissioners, two are Democratic-appointees (Chairwoman Edith Ramirez and Terrell McSweeny) and one is a Republican appointee (Maureen Ohlhaussen). Additionally, Chairwoman Ramirez will see her seven-year term expire in April. This means that President-elect Trump will be nominating a total of three FTC Commissioners, two of whom will be Republicans and one who will be a Democrat. For the Democrat-appointee nomination, Trump will need to work closely with Senate Democrats. So, once the dust clears, FTC Commission will have a 3-2 Republican majority. And, shortly after Trump is sworn into office on January 20, he can choose the Chair of the Commission. Most observers suspect that Republican Commissioner Ohlhaussen will be named chair shortly after the inauguration. Trump’s hand in creating a Republican majority in the FTC Committee is significant to the homeopathic industry since the Commissioners ultimately determine the type of enforcement cases that the FTC decides to prosecute. Undoubtedly, the AAHP will be watching Trump’s nominations to the FTC Commission closely.

It should be noted that while Republicans will control both the House and Senate of the 115th Congress, their majority in the Senate will be 52 to 48. Such a majority can rightly be characterized as slim—especially when it takes 60 votes to overcome a minority party-led filibuster that can block any legislation (except for what is called a budget reconciliation package). This tight majority in the Senate will present real challenges to any proposed policy changes that could be portrayed by detractors as loosening regulatory burdens at the expense of public health or safety.

As an industry whose products have been “under siege” in recent years, it would be foolhardy to leave our guard down as a reaction to what ostensibly should be a more favorable political environment in Washington. As such, the AAHP will remain vigilant in its Congressional education and outreach campaign, and its pursuit of new allies in Congress. There is reason for optimism though, as the coming two years present a ripe opportunity for the AAHP to advance policy changes that would provide regulatory certainty for the industry. Of course though, to succeed in our efforts at the federal level, we will need the help and support of the AAHP’s membership. So, as the year unfolds, be prepared to lend your assistance in this mission!