Beyond Sensational Headlines — Incoming House Leaders Announce Broad Investigative Priorities Targeting Business Community

December 19, 2018

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In the politically explosive atmosphere of Washington, the talk of the town focuses on congressional investigations: Who will be called before Congress and when. Newspaper headlines blare the latest controversy — from Ivanka Trump’s use of personal emails for government business, to numerous investigations alleging corruption from several cabinet secretaries, and, yes, to the continuing fallout from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. But as the nation prepares for power in the House to change hands on Jan. 3, another question looms large: What does all this mean for the business community? 

Though the priorities of incoming House committee chairs may be relegated to smaller print below the fold, according to their own public commentary and reporting, the new House is poised to commence oversight hearings and congressional inquiries aimed at key segments of the business community. This article highlights the prerogatives of some of the most important committees and industry areas likely to see significant activity from the new House of Representatives.

House Judiciary Committee to Focus on Healthcare

In the House Judiciary Committee, multiple press outlets report that incoming chair Congressman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) will focus on a variety of healthcare issues such as consolidation in three major areas — healthcare insurers, the hospital market and pharmacy benefit managers — and investigate why the Trump administration chose not to defend the Affordable Care Act against a lawsuit from 20 Republican-led states. According to David Cicilline (D-R.I.), poised to chair the antitrust subcommittee, “We will get to work immediately to promote competition and address monopoly power in health-care markets.” Additionally, spurred by the most recent and widely publicized shootings at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Nadler likely will take up gun control as it relates to mass shootings, implicating the gun manufacturing industry and retail outlets. Finally, while Nadler said he will not take up impeachment proceedings against Justice Brett Kavanaugh, he indicated plans to examine other issues associated with Kavanaugh’s confirmation process. 

Drug Prices, Flint Water Crisis, Immigration and the 2020 Census

Because the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s jurisdiction is broad, incoming chair Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) is likely to investigate numerous issues spanning several industries. Media reports indicate that these investigations will include the high cost of prescription drugs; the continuing water crisis in Flint, Michigan; and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’ decision to include a citizenship question on the 2020 census. On immigration, Cummings plans to investigate the Trump administration’s policies on the separation of migrant children from their undocumented parents at the Mexican border. Press reports also confirm Cummings is expected to investigate the General Services Administration’s decision to keep the FBI headquarters in downtown Washington, D.C., as opposed to a suburban headquarters in Maryland or Virginia, thus preventing the land from being developed commercially, in potential competition with the Trump International Hotel.

Consumer Finance Issues

In the House Financial Services Committee, press reports indicate that incoming chair Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) will investigate consumer finance issues involving the big banks and credit reporting agencies, as well as the Trump Organization’s ties to large financial institutions. While major legislation rolling back bank deregulation is unlikely given Republican control of the Senate, Waters likely will focus on financial institutions’ conduct — particularly, the conduct of the largest banks — toward consumers during the financial crisis. In Waters’ own words: “I have not forgotten that you sold us those exotic products. … What am I going to do to you? … I’m going to do to you what you did to us.”

The Energy and Environmental Arena

Expect substantial investigations activity to focus on the energy and environmental arena, as well. For example, incoming chair Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) for the House Natural Resources Committee said he will hold hearings regarding rule changes promulgated by the Trump administration, including rules addressing climate change, federal waters and waterways, the Endangered Species Act, and the Wilderness Act. Additionally, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), who will take over the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said seismic testing, a process where compressed air is shot into the ocean to try to locate oil and gas deposits, thought to be a precursor of offshore oil drilling testing, “has disastrous consequences for marine wildlife.”

Revised NAFTA Deal

News reports also indicate that incoming chair Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) of the House Ways and Means Committee will lead the House’s consideration of the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (the revised NAFTA deal), which will affect the auto, tech, retail, agriculture, labor and environmental sectors of the economy. Reporting requirements likely will delay a vote until the beginning of the second quarter, however. Press reports also indicate that the House Energy and Commerce Committee plans to hold oversight hearings regarding transparency and data security at some of the nation’s biggest technology companies.

Education Policy

Other commentary suggests that House Education and Workforce Committee incoming chair Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) will examine Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ efforts to overturn a variety of Obama-era education regulations, implicating the private and for-profit college industry, veterans hiring, and the defense industry writ large. Based on recent press and commentary from incoming House leadership, expect significant investigative activity from House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence incoming chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), House Foreign Affairs Committee incoming chairman Elliot Engel (D-N.Y.), House Armed Services incoming chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.), and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee incoming chair Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.).

Congressional Oversight of the Business Community

It may be tempting to conclude that Washington will be wholly consumed by frenzied coverage of Special Counsel Mueller’s Russia investigation and other headline-grabbing issues, leaving minimal room for congressional oversight of the business community. But the public statements of the incoming House chairs make it clear that businesses will confront an active period for congressional investigations. In fact, such activity likely will continue some of the pitched battles encountered during the Obama administration, as well as open new fronts. 

For more detail regarding the stated priorities of these committees or more information about this article generally, please contact any of the authors or other members of the congressional investigations practice.

This article was first published by McGuireWoods LLP and was co-authored by the following individuals at McGuireWoods LLP and McGuireWoods Consulting.

Learn more about McGuireWoods’ Government Investigations group here.

 John D. Adams
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Carolyn J. Appel
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Robert J. Bittman
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Mona G. Mohib
Sr. VP, Federal Public Affairs 
+1 202 857 2912
Paul J. Reagan
Sr. VP, Federal Public Affairs
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Susan C. Rodriguez
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Todd R. Steggerda
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George J. Terwilliger III
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