Transition Update – One week in

Transition Updates

President-elect Donald Trump is putting together his Cabinet. It was widely reported yesterday that neurosurgeon and former presidential candidate Ben Carson took himself out of the running for consideration as secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, citing his lack of experience in running an agency.  Others in the running for the top spot at HHS include House budget committee chair Tom Price of Georgia, former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, and former House speaker Newt Gingrich.  Any talk of who might head up the National Institutes of Health would follow the appointment of a secretary, but all signs indicate the HHS secretary will be focused on repealing the Affordable Care Act.  There is no chatter right now about who will head the National Science Foundation.

*** 3:40 PM eastern time update.  Rep. Tom Price has been spotted at Trump Tower in New York City.  We can now consider him the front runner for the HHS top spot. ***

Congress is back

In the U.S. House, Paul Ryan was re-elected speaker.

Congress is, however, coming back from election season and has quite a bit of work to do.  There is a growing sense that Republicans and Trump want more time to set up spending plans for the next fiscal year, so a continuing resolution extension (or some combination of a CR for some agencies and an omnibus for others) is possible.  We’re watching this closely.

From the “I don’t believe it” desk, GOP House members are signaling a new era of deficit spending, including billions on infrastructure, defense spending and tax cuts.  This spending could add up to $5.3 trillion, according the Committee for a Responsible Budget, which would balloon debt as a share of the economy from today’s hefty 77 percent to an estimated 105 percent.

Then there’s the Senate and the 21st Century Cures Act push.  I met with staffers yesterday who confirmed there is not agreement on bill language.  It’s not that they don’t have a public bill, it’s that they don’t have a bill period.  So, we have no idea what, if any, funding will be in it, but indications are that whatever funding does exist will be specific and targeted.  The BRAIN Initiative, opioid addiction and the Food and Drug Administration seem to be important to those drafting the legislation.  It is unclear how funding for those priorities would support R01 investigator-initiated basic research.  Additionally, negotiations are further complicated because of an inability by Republican and Democrats to identify an acceptable source of the funding to pay for this proposal.

Does he get it?

Finally, a word on Trump and immigration.  Many in the community are fearful that President-elect Trump’s harsh rhetoric on immigration during the campaign may translate into policies that will hurt scientists across the country and around the world.  These concerns prompted this statement from ASBMB reaffirming our commitment to diversity and inclusion.  Immigration policy colleagues of mine pointed me to this quote from President-elect Trump during the GOP primary debates,

“We need highly skilled people in this country, and if we can’t do it, we’ll get them in. But, and we do need in Silicon Valley, we absolutely have to have. So, we do need highly skilled, and one of the biggest problems we have is people go to the best colleges. They’ll go to Harvard, they’ll go to Stanford, they’ll go to Wharton, as soon as they’re finished they’ll get shoved out. They want to stay in this country. They want to stay here desperately, they’re not able to stay here. For that purpose, we absolutely have to be able to keep the brain power in this country.” 

 It would appear – at least in words – Trump might actually get it.

People around him, however, not so much.  As reported in the Washington Post, Steve Bannon, now senior White House policy adviser, has Trump’s ear:

Last November, for instance, Trump said he was concerned that foreign students attending Ivy League schools have to return home because of U.S. immigration laws.

‘We have to be careful of that, Steve. You know, we have to keep our talented people in this country,’ Trump said. He paused. Bannon said, ‘Um.’

‘I think you agree with that,’ Trump said. ‘Do you agree with that?’

Bannon was hesitant.

‘When two-thirds or three-quarters of the CEOs in Silicon Valley are from South Asia or from Asia, I think . . . ‘ Bannon said, not finishing the sentence. ‘A country is more than an economy. We’re a civic society.’

Trump said he would build a border wall, but still wanted to let highly educated foreign students who graduate from U.S. colleges to be able to stay in the country.

‘I still want people to come in,’ Trump said. ‘But I want them to go through the process.’

Bannon said: ‘You got to remember, we’re Breitbart. We’re the know-nothing vulgarians. So we’ve always got to be to the right of you on this.'”

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