A Year of Known Unknowns: 2017 Rounds the Corner

As a new Congress hits the ground running, we are keeping track of activity that will impact the Duke community. Cordialities did not last long after the 115th Congress was sworn in on January 3rd. Between debates over the future of the Affordable Care Act, the closing of Guantanamo Bay, Russian hacking, and preparations for the Inauguration, DC is buzzing with speculation. But instead of fretting over so many unknowns, we decided to take a break and detail what we can actually expect in 2017.

This past year taught us that we cannot fully predict what may happen at every turn, but we do have an idea of some important dates for when major shifts may come. The following is a collection of policy issues and dates that may impact the Duke community in 2017.

January 3rd

Senate began consideration of a new FY17 budget resolution.  The Senate voted to proceed to consideration of the FY17 budget resolution introduced January 3rd by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-WY). The measure (S. Con. Res. 3 ) sets up a fast-track process for repealing the Affordable Care Act. It maintains the $1.07 trillion discretionary spending cap for FY17 approved in the Budget Control Act, without additional funding for defense or cuts to nondefense.

January 17th

Originally scheduled for January 11th, Betsy DeVos will face her confirmation hearing for Secretary of Education. DeVos has spent two decades advocating for charter schools and taxpayer-funded school vouchers.  Some Republicans are hopeful that DeVos will oversee a shrinking of the federal footprint in education.  Very little is known of her positions on higher education.

It is for this reason that the confirmation hearing headed by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), ranking member of the education committee, will be insightful for the Duke community.  Senator Murray has said that she will ask DeVos to explain her plans to address college affordability and student debt as well as DeVos’s views of campus sexual violence.

Other confirmation hearings started January 9th.  We particularly like the following link with schedules and top issues:

Trump’s Cabinet Picks: A Rundown of Upcoming Hearings

January 11th is also the first day of classes for the Sanford School’s Duke in DC and UNC’s Public Policy study abroad students. Internships range from Capitol Hill and think tanks to government departments and major consulting firms.  Although technically in separately-run programs, studying in a shared office space offers students the chance to overcome Triangle rivalries in the name of productive policy discourse.

January 20th  

President-elect Trump becomes the 45th president of the United States.  We expect a flurry of executive orders and bill signings during the immediate hours after President-elect Trump is sworn in. Transition team spokesperson and incoming Press Secretary Sean Spicer has signaled that “a lot” of Obama’s actions will be repealed, with a focus on reducing regulation and promoting job growth.

Of primary concern is what the upcoming administration might do to Obama’s Executive Order Deferring Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).  DACA allows the children of undocumented immigrants to attend school in the US without consequence.

January 31st

The open enrollment period ends for coverage through Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplaces for 2017.  Questions remain as to whether the talk about “repealing Obamacare” will damage enrollment numbers.  Further questions remain as to the impact defunding ACA provisions will have on the healthcare industry.  At the moment, it appears unlikely that students who stay on their parent’s medical plans until 26 years of age will be largely affected.


Duke in DC moves to new offices!  From our current home on 12th and New York Ave., we head down the street to 12th and Pennsylvania.  This new space will bring us closer to the action and combines our offices with the Duke Margolis Center for Health Policy. A major expansion, the new office allows us to host events, small conferences, and 25 new colleagues. Look forward to updates and photos to come.

March 16th  

The debt limit ends at 12:01am.  At this point, the Treasury Department can begin using “extraordinary measures” for an unknown length of time until the “true” limit is reached.  However, if Congress does nothing by then, the US will begin defaulting on its national debt.

April 28th  

The current Continuing Resolution (CR) funds the government through this date.  If Congress does not pass another budget or CR, there will be a shutdown.  If there is a shutdown, many government contracts may cease funding and federal contract recipients may be in limbo while the budget is discussed.  This is especially important for researchers and institutes receiving contracts from the NIH, NSF, and any Defense-related entities that are awarded over a period of time.

April 29th  

President Trump completes his 100th day in office. Expect a rush of stories deciding the importance, both historical and political, of the last one hundred days.


Trump plans to submit FY18 Budget. Senior House appropriator Tom Cole (R-OK) told CQ.com that President-elect Trump plans to submit an FY18 budget to Congress, although that might not happen until May. Rep. Cole said appropriators would welcome the guidance.


The Supreme Court’s term ends.  The current 4-4 split will remain through the next few months but there may be a large decision or two before then.  Democrats have vowed to drag out any confirmation process for Trump’s nominee and so much remains uncertain about when the Court will be back at full-strength with 9 Justices.

Opportunities and Updates

The Office of Government Relations will continue to closely monitor events on the ground and to update the Duke community as concerns and opportunities arise. Follow the Office of Government Relations on Facebook or Twitter and subscribe to our digests to stay better informed on the year ahead and its policy implications.