Developments on Capitol Hill of Interest for AAHP Members

  • Senate Leadership of Key Committees Overseeing FDA/FTC Will See Changes in Next Congress
  • Leaders of Influential House Committee to Remain but Role Reversal Predicted

By Pete Evich, Vice President, Van Scoyoc Associates

Due to announced retirements in the Senate, changes in the leadership of the two key Senate Committees that oversee FDA and FTC are set to occur in the next Congress (118th Congress), which will commence in early January 2023. As FDA and FTC are the two primary federal agencies that have policy and enforcement jurisdiction over homeopathic drug products, these pending developments on Capitol Hill are of interest to AAHP members.

Senate HELP (FDA Jurisdiction)

As a result of the pending retirement of long-time Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy (D), who is chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, there is the potential for Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) to relinquish her current chairmanship of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee to assume the reins of the Senate Appropriations Committee. The Appropriations Committee is a powerful panel that oversees annual federal spending and sets budget priorities. Sen. Murray has served as the top Senate Democrat on HELP since 2015, but as she is next in line to take over the Senate Appropriations Committee, the speculation is she will opt to lead the spending panel in the 118th Congress.

In a scenario where Sen. Murray takes over the Senate Appropriations Committee, next in line on the HELP Committee for the Democrats is Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Sanders has indicated an interest in leading the HELP panel on the Democratic side of the aisle. Directly behind Sen. Sanders in seniority for HELP Committee Democrats is Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania. While Casey is not necessarily viewed as being a pro-active supporter of the homeopathic drug product class, AAHP companies such as Boiron and Hylands – which have Pennsylvania roots – have engaged with Sen. Casey and his office in years past, making the Senator very aware of the state’s homeopathic ties. For his part, Sen. Sanders has a history with natural-based health care modalities and knows some elements of the complementary and alternative community-based in Vermont.

If Sen. Murray takes over the Senate Appropriations Committee, that will not be the only leadership change to take place at the Senate HELP Committee in next year’s Congress. Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), the current Ranking Member on Senate HELP, is retiring at the end of the year, which means there will be a definite shift at the top of this panel for Republicans. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is next in line to serve as the lead Republican on HELP, but he also will have the option to serve as head Republican on the Senate Homeland Security Committee due to the retirement of current Homeland Security chairman, Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH). Should Sen. Paul opt to be the top Republican on the Senate Homeland Security Committee instead of HELP, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), who is a gastroenterologist, is the next most senior GOPer on the panel after Paul.

If Senator Paul does take over the reins of the HELP Committee on the Republican side, he is widely known to be critical of FDA and the public health establishment that resides within other key federal government agencies. Paul’s extra sharp critical eye and often adversarial approach (as viewed by his combative relationship with Dr. Anthony Fauci) is rare amongst his colleagues in the Senate. As such, a Sen. Paul leadership role on HELP would bring a posture that is unique for this position.

Senate Commerce Committee (FTC Jurisdiction)

The Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees FTC consumer protection and privacy issues, is poised for a leadership change on the Republican side. Current Ranking Member of the Committee, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), has expressed his interest in taking over the Senate Armed Services Committee next year. The Armed Services Committee position will open up in light of the pending retirement of Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), who is the current Republican leader on the panel. Next in the seniority line for Republicans on the Commerce Committee is Texas conservative Ted Cruz, who is openly critical of FTC’s powers and often characterizes the Commission’s actions toward industry as abusive. On the Democratic side, Sen. Maria Cantwell (WA) is expected to stay as the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce in the 118th Congress.

House Energy and Commerce Committee (FDA & FTC Jurisdiction)

Both the current Democratic (Rep. Frank Pallone of NJ) and Republican (Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers of WA) leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee — which has jurisdiction over FDA and FTC — are expected to remain as their party’s respective leaders on the panel in the 118th Congress.

However, whereas Senate control is now trending to remain in Democratic hands after November, the Republicans currently have the slight advantage to take over control in the House of Representatives once the dust settles from this election cycle. Democrats control the House now by less than half a dozen seats — the smallest margin of either party in 20 years — and the shift of a few seats in the 2022 midterm election could tip power to the GOP. Should that be the case, roles would be reversed where Rep. McMorris-Rodgers would chair the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Pallone would be the Ranking Member.

The most significant result of a scenario where the Republicans regain control of the House in the next Congress is that only truly bipartisan policy initiatives will be able to advance to the President’s desk in the 2023–2024 cycle. High profile or ambitious federal policy legislation will fall victim to House-Senate Congressional gridlock.

We will be sure to provide AAHP members with additional updates in the upcoming months on the Congressional political dynamics set to unfold with this November’s elections and what that may mean as it relates to federal healthcare legislation and regulation and potential impacts on the homeopathic drug sector.