Public Policy Update

With a new president, a new Cabinet, sweeping changes in the leadership of federal agencies, a slim but complete Republican majority in Congress and marked changes in committee chairmanships, APA's Public Policy Office (PPO) is facing a number of new challenges.

Gone are many of the high-profile faces and personalities we had come to recognize--individuals who had been critical to PPO's initiatives. Our job now is to get to know the new leaders and educate them on APA issues.

Bush Cabinet rapidly takes shape

At press time just after inauguration, most of President Bush's nominees for Cabinet positions had been confirmed, including Roderick R. Paige, EdD, as secretary of education. Paige served for six years as the Houston superintendent of schools, setting high standards and promoting performance measures to determine student improvement. Paige is expected to focus on elementary and secondary education with the pending reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson (R), Bush's choice to head the Department of Health and Human Services, was confirmed as well. He is perhaps best known for implementing an innovative welfare-reform program. Thompson will face issues dominating the federal health-care agenda, including prescription drug coverage for the elderly, strengthening Medicare's solvency, safeguarding the privacy of medical records, expanding health-care coverage and an ongoing effort to double the budget of the National Institutes of Health.

Linda Chavez's withdrawal from consideration as President Bush's nominee for labor secretary served both to embolden opponents of other nominees and to strengthen the resolve of the majority to confirm the remaining nominees. This has played out most notably with Bush's nomination of former Sen. John D. Ashcroft (R­Mo.) as attorney general. Ashcroft has come under close scrutiny during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee for his policy positions in such areas as civil rights, affirmative action and reproductive health care. He formerly served as Missouri governor and state attorney general.

Subcabinet level appointments still uncertain

Changes in leadership below the Cabinet level may also have dramatic effects on federal programs that affect psychologists. Although all presidential appointees were required to submit a pro forma resignation letter, some of them may be asked to retain their positions. Whether Dan Goldin stays on at NASA or Rita Colwell at the National Science Foundation through the current administration, some high-profile positions may or may not be filled by those who look favorably upon psychology and the behavioral sciences. For example, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) was anybody's guess at press time. However, that person will likely play a significant role in determining the extent to which behavioral research is supported across the various NIH institutes and centers.

Similarly, the departing Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who made controversial decisions about needle-exchange programs, was viewed as an effective leader of the Office of National Drug Control Policy and was otherwise very receptive to treatment research and integration of treatment into the criminal justice system. The delicate balance of supply-and-demand reduction might be influenced by new leadership more inclined to view substance abuse/dependence as a crime rather than as a public health issue.

Still to be named is Neal Lane's successor as presidential science adviser and director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). OSTP doesn't control large pots of money, but helps evaluate commissioned reports from the National Academy of Sciences and elsewhere that may influence administration policies on controversial subjects like research ethics.

Where the purse strings are concerned, a central but often overlooked appointment has been made at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB)--a position ranked by insiders as among the most powerful in Washington. Mitchell Daniels will leave pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly to head OMB. The OMB post sets initial budget priorities and is a powerful political player. When budget negotiations break down at the end of a legislative session, the compromise agreements have traditionally involved a handful of people: majority leaders of the House and Senate, the president, his chief of staff and the head of OMB.

New Congress negotiating power

The House and Senate are in the throes of significant power shifts as well. The unprecedented power-sharing in the evenly divided Senate allows the majority to maintain all chairmanships but guarantees that the overall committee membership will be divided evenly between Republicans and Democrats. Perhaps more important committee funds will likewise be distributed 50/50, restructuring one critical sphere of influence--staff. Contentious bills will no longer die in subcommittee. Before, a tie vote at the subcommittee level meant a bill would not receive further consideration, but now those bills will be referred to the full committee. Either the committee chair or the ranking minority member can discount the tie vote at that level and take the bill to the floor of the Senate for a vote.

While self-imposed term limits have ensured a vigorous game of "musical chairmanships," this has not resulted in many changes in the leadership of Senate committees of special interest to psychology, with the notable exception of Sen. Charles Grassley (R­Iowa) assuming the chairmanship of the powerful Senate Finance Committee. Also notable, Sen. Bill Frist (R­Tenn.) gave up his chairmanship of the Health Subcommittee and his seat on the Commerce, Science and Transpor- tation Committee to become chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee--a much sought-after leadership position and the chief fund-raising arm of the Senate.

In contrast, the House has experienced considerable turnover in chairmanships of committees key to psychology's interest. These include the Labor-Health and Human Services-Education Appropriations Subcommittee (which funds NIH), the Education and the Workforce Committee, the Energy and Com- merce Committee, the Judiciary Committee and the Science Commit- tee (see box for more details).

Critical role played by members of Congress and their staff

Each House and Senate member is important to APA's advocacy efforts, whether they sit on a committee that is critical to psychology's issues or not. They might in the future. And they debate and vote on legislation. Likewise, congressional staff play a vital role. Many of the decisions made by individual members of Congress come by way of recommendations from their staff. The bottom line is that any connection made with members of Congress or their staff is a worthwhile investment, with the potential to truly make a difference in shaping public policy.


Further Reading

New chairmen of key House committees

There is a six-year term limit on the tenure of committee chairs. The House committee system underwent a thorough reorganization at the start of the 107th Congress, bringing many new, young Republican members into leadership positions. Here is a listing of the key House committees and new chairmen with whom APA's Public Policy Office will work:

Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (Labor-HHS-Education): Ralph Regula (R­Ohio), an attorney and former high school principal and teacher, he previously chaired the committee's Interior and Related Agencies Subcommittee and co-chaired the House Aging Caucus.

Education and Workforce Committee: John A. Boehner (R­Ohio), a businessman, served as the Republican Party Conference chairman and spokesman in the late 1990s. As a supporter of positive education reforms for Americans of all ages, he is expected to advance Bush's education priorities.

Energy and Commerce Committee: W.J. "Billy" Tauzin (R­La.), a lawyer, has represented the socially conservative Cajun country along the Gulf of Mexico since 1980. He is expected to take a very conservative approach to health issues, including limiting expansion of federal programs, regulations and funding.

Judiciary Committee: James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R­Wis.), an attorney and former state legislator, has served in the House since 1978. He has a strong pro-life record. Juvenile justice legislation and youth violence, more broadly, will likely constitute a major focus of the committee during the 107th Congress.

Science Committee: Sherwood "Sherry" Boehlert (R­N.Y.), has served in Congress since 1982, and previously chaired the committee's Basic Research Subcommittee. He is known as a moderate who works effectively across party lines. His district includes State University of New York campuses, the Air Force's Rome Laboratory and the former Griffiss Air Force Base.