Politico

Pro Policy Summit: Live updates and highlights

Written by Lisa

The first POLITICO Pro Summit is underway today with newsmakers including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and the CEOs of Virgin Galactic, Exelon and Box. The full lineup of speakers is here and the agenda is here. We’ll be bringing you the highlights of the 17 panels and news that’s made at the summit throughout the day. So bookmark this page and come back to find out what’s going on. You can also join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #ProSummit.


Brady: Trump will ‘find someone’ to work on tax

House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas), acknowledging Trump’s cooperation with Democrats on major policy issues, said Republicans would welcome working with Democrats on areas of common ground within tax reform.

“If Republicans aren’t willing to unite and deliver on tax reform, he’ll find someone else,” to work with on tax reform, said Brady, who also kept the door open to working with Democrats on the tax overhaul. “That doesn’t preclude bringing the best minds … from our Democratic colleagues [to the table] as well.”

“I think there’s common ground to build on,” Brady said, though he signaled that much work remains, including passing a budget.

“We need to take a hard look at all that underbrush in the code,” to drive business rates lower and preserve immediate expensing for large purchases in a tax overhaul.

Colin Wilhelm


Neal: ‘Room for conversation’ with WH on tax

The top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee is optimistic about possible bipartisan coordination on tax reform.

Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) said he thinks there’s “room there for conversation” on “building out” tax reform around provisions aimed at aiding the middle class.

“I think there’s some room given that for the moment, just for the moment, that the administration seems to be in sync with the middle-class positions that we would adopt,” he said.

Still, Neal said, “the key is to pay attention to the distribution tables,” as to who would benefit from tax reform the most. He also raised concerns over the president’s rhetoric on the topic.

“I think the president from time-to-time has used words interchangeably like ‘tax cut’ and ‘tax reform,'” Neal said.

Colin Wilhelm


Ross: Trump tweets have results

Trump’s use of his presidential bully pulpit — particularly his powerful Twitter feed — to call out individual companies and industries has been effective at home and at the World Trade Organization, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said.

Asked for his take on Trump’s unpredictable tendency to go after companies or business leaders from his perch in the West Wing, Ross responded: “You achieve a lot by doing that.”

“I don’t think that some of the trade cases that are going to WTO would have gone nearly as well if people didn’t realize that he is somewhat skeptical about WTO,” Ross said. “I don’t think a lot of the corporate decisions about whether or not to go offshore would have been made the same way without the tweets.”

Megan Cassella


Ross says success would be reelecting Trump

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross says one metric of success for his tenure would be if Trump gets reelected for a second term.

He also said that many business leaders he’s spoken with applauded the regulatory rollbacks since Trump took office, saying it’s felt like a “gigantic monkey being taken off the backs” of many companies.

When pressed about the emerging antitrust questions about tech giants, Ross said that they were “regular companies and some of them are getting to be quite big regular companies.”

He said some of the policies the EU has implemented have been discriminatory against American companies and served protectionist interests. Fining Apple $14.5 billion for back taxes and Google $2.7 billion for antitrust violations are among the actions the European Commission has taken in recent years.

Li Zhou


NRCC: No WH GOP primary intervention expected

There is “no indication” that the White House will intervene in House GOP primaries, said Joe Pileggi, political director of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

“Our job is to protect our members in the primary,” Pileggi said. “We have a great relationship with the White House.”

The president has gone after GOP Senate members — namely Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, who he has called weak on crime and the border.

But Pileggi said the idea of Trump intervening in the House field was “hypothetical. … There is no indication that is happening.”

Read more.

Kelsey Tamborrino


Gottlieb: FDA was ‘not ready’ to implement Obama administration’s nutrition labels

FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb says the Obama administration’s rushed approach to nutrition labeling rules forced him to issue a one-year delay.

“I haven’t talked about it in public yet … [but] the agency was not ready to implement that on schedule,” Gottlieb said, adding that he consulted with career staff before pushing off compliance with the rule. “We’re going to be taking some time to put out some guidance on added sugar” and other nutritional issues, he said.

Gottlieb said he understood why the Obama administration was rushing to finalize the rule, given that the issue had been a priority for senior leaders including former First Lady Michelle Obama. “They’re not the first administration to do that … but it put the agency in a difficult position,” he said.

Dan Diamond


Ross: WH wants 5-year sunset review in NAFTA

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross confirmed today the Trump administration wants the new NAFTA agreement to include a provision that would automatically terminate the deal after five years, unless the three countries agree to renew it.

“The five-year thing is a real thing,” as opposed to a withdrawal provision in the current NAFTA agreement that is much less likely to be used, Ross said.

The proposal “would force a systematic re-examination” of NAFTA every five years, Ross said. “Why that’s important is the forecasts that have been made at the initiation of NAFTA and of other trade agreements mostly have been wildly optimistic as to the results.”

Such a re-evaluation would create an ongoing opportunity to try to fix things that aren’t going as well as expected, he said.

Megan Cassella and Doug Palmer


Ross: U.S. can still get tough on China trade

Working with China to stem North Korea’s nuclear program doesn’t hinder the U.S.’s ability to get tough on Beijing’s trade policy, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said.

Ross said resolving the nuclear missile problem is the administration’s “No. 1 priority.”

“The primary responsibility of the president is to protect the American people, so that has to be the sine qua non,” Ross said. But, he added, there is “nothing logically inconsistent with that and having a trade policy that’s better economically for us.”

President Donald Trump and his administration have been grappling with how to fulfill campaign promises to crack down on China’s trade policy while also asking for its help in reigning in North Korea. Trump earlier this month threatened to cut off all trade with any countries doing business with Pyongyang — a move that was aimed almost entirely at Beijing.

Megan Cassella


Gottlieb: Competition key issue facing pharma

FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb says his agency is focused on boosting pharmaceutical competition when it comes to the hot-button topic of drug prices.

“We think about it from the standpoint of competition, trying to facilitate competition,” Gottlieb said, noting that the agency is targeting generic drugs as an avenue to address cost and access issues.

The FDA commissioner added that the agency has long focused on increasing competition — and that this isn’t a hallmark of a new administration — but is working to be more transparent about those internal deliberations.

Gottlieb declined to address how or when the White House would take action on drug prices. Trump campaigned on a pledge to reduce the nation’s high drug prices.

Read more.

Dan Diamond


Gottlieb: Some FDA regulations are ‘very old’

FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb defended the Trump administration’s regulatory approach, saying the agency is taking a principled approach to thinning out unnecessary rules.

“I don’t think about it as more or less regulation,” Gottlieb said. “The way I approach it is … thinking about what our public health challenges are and how we’re going to address them.”

Gottlieb said there are some areas where FDA will prioritize new regulations and may seem “interventionalist,” like coming up with new rules around opioids and addiction-related treatments or imposing new clinical trial standards to allow drugs to be developed. “I don’t think that means sacrificing on safety and efficacy,” he added.

Meanwhile, “some regulations are very old,” Gottlieb said, citing mammography standards that he thinks are outdated. And “I’m not sure we need a regulation to define how people should be [baking] cherry pie,” Gottlieb said, referencing one regulation that’s still in development and that might not be necessary.

— Dan Diamond


WH Innovation Office talking with tech CEOs

The White House’s Office of American Innovation has had conversations with tech companies as recently as the last 24 hours, says Matt Lira, a top tech aide to Trump.

Following a June meeting with companies including Apple, Alphabet and Amazon to discuss the challenge of modernizing federal IT, Lira said more discussions are happening on issues including updated services for veterans and testing platforms.

“There are people in the Valley support us, even if it’s not the average or the mean,” Lira said, when pressed on the tension between many members of the tech community and the Trump administration.

Read more.

— Li Zhou


NRCC: Pelosi good for R’s keeping House

The National Republican Congressional Committee’s political director says the key to keeping the majority in the House comes down to two words: Nancy Pelosi.

“We know exactly what she’d done and what she will do again if she’s speaker again,” says Joe Pileggi.

Dan Sena, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee executive director, shot back during the same panel that “opportunity” will allow Democrats to regain the chamber.

“Sitting members are used to working under a Democratic president,” he said. “They are not used to the environment they are in” and are reverting to “old tactics” that “don’t fit under a sitting Republican president.”

Sena said there are 60 to 85 races this cycle that are viable for Democrats.

“We will spend in any race if the option is viable to take back that House,” he added.

Kelsey Tamborrino


Schiff: No interim Russian hacking report

Rep. Adam Schiff shot down the idea that the House Intelligence Committee would issue an interim report about its probe into Russia’s digital meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

“It will be a challenge enough for us to reach a final report,” Schiff said, adding he wasn’t sure he wants to “take on the additional obligation.”

The leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee have met at least once about the idea of providing a public update into their investigation into Moscow’s influence effort and plan to discuss it more in the future.

Schiff declined to say when the House examination, which has at time stalled over partisan bickering, would end.

Questions, including the roles Facebook and other social media platforms played in spreading Russian misinformation, remain unanswered.

“There’s a lot that we need to know further from the social media companies,” Schiff said, adding he wants the firms to testify about fake Russian accounts that were purchased as political ads during the campaign.

Read more.

— Martin Matishak


Panelists: Congress missing debt-cutting chance

“We’re in what I would call concern-about-the-debt-free zone,” former Sen. Kent Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat, said about whether Congress will try to reduce the national debt.

Panelists weren’t optimistic about the prospects for debt reduction in the current tax reform push. House Republican leaders plan to release more details this month.

“The dream died when the border-adjustment tax died,” said James Pethokoukis, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. “I’d almost rather have this whole tax reform debate stop and think hard” about long-term solutions.

The national debt surpassed $20 trillion for the first time last week, and Conrad said Social Security could be insolvent by as early as 2029. “There is a fiscal reality out there that has to be dealt with,” he said.

— Eli Okun


Lobbyist: No reactor loan guarantee hike

Mike McKenna, president of the lobbying firm MWR Strategies, says the Energy Department should reject a request from Southern Co.’s Georgia Power to increase loan guarantees for the long-delayed and over-budget nuclear reactor project at the Vogtle power station.

“There comes a time in every administration when you have to look your friends, and even not your friends, in the eye and say, ‘bank’s closed,’” he said.

Under the Obama administration, DOE approved loan guarantees totaling $8.33 billion for the project’s three owners, including $3.4 billion for Southern. The company is awaiting a DOE decision on its request to hike that amount.

But an official from Exelon Corp, which operates the biggest fleet of nuclear power plants in the U.S., defended its utility peer.

“I see Southern as a pretty good risk to invest in, in terms of loan guarantee,” said David Brown, senior vice president for government affairs for Exelon.

— Eric Wolff


Lira: Government tech systems ‘failing routinely’

Matt Lira, a technology aide to Trump and member of the Office of American Innovation, says government technology systems are “failing routinely.”

“The systems aren’t optimized anywhere near the private sector,” he said. “It’s a true crisis in the federal government.”

Lira said the initial collapse of Healthcare.gov during the Obama administration was not an “outlier” among government projects in the problems it faced.

— Li Zhou


Tavenner: ‘We can’t tolerate’ drug price hikes

The nation’s top health insurance lobbyist says dramatic drug price increases are harming public health goals and applauds new legislation intended to tamp down rapid hikes.

“We all sit here and say we want to cover more people, [but we] can’t do that if we don’t deal with the underlying cost problem,” said Marilyn Tavenner, the head of America’s Health Insurance Plans. She pointed to significant drug price increases as a stress for insurers. “We can’t tolerate that.”

Dan Diamond


Top NASA appropriator: Give NASA more money

Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas), the appropriator who oversees NASA funding, says he’d like the space budget increase to 2 or 3 percent of gross domestic product — a huge increase from the .5 percent being spent now. Back in the Apollo mission NASA heyday, the U.S. was spending 4 percent of GDP on space exploration, he said.

The congressman predicts it’ll take a large discovery to “electrify” the public to support increased spending on space and NASA. He crystal balls that the big discovery will be of life on Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons. This discovery is so important that he actually legally required NASA to complete the mission to Europa in the space appropriations bill being considered on the House floor today.

— Jacqueline Klimas


Start planning your space tourism

Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides envisions eventually sending millions of private citizens into space. To allow that to happen, the head of one of the top private space companies urged policymakers not to overregulate the commercial space sector, saying that a lot of today’s policies are working well and allowing companies to innovate.

“We don’t want to screw it up by over regulating,” Whitesides said. “There’s some really enlightened policy right now as it pertains to human space flight and I think we need to maintain that regulatory framework.”

Virgin Galactic is planning to send paying tourists into space as soon as next year. Whitesides gives full support to NASA, but says it’s up to private companies to offer the masses the opportunity to get to space, albeit at a steep price.

“NASA’s job has not been to open up space for the rest of us, it’s been to explore,” he said.

Jacqueline Klimas


Pallone: ‘Stop the sabotage’ of Obamacare

The single best move the Trump administration could do for Obamacare is to stop undermining the law, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), the ranking member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, said.

“I really think we’re at a crucial moment now where the sabotage has to end,” Pallone urged. “I’m not even asking the president to support any particular legislation. I just want the administration to stop the sabotage.”

— Dan Diamond


Could Trump bless bipartisan Senate health talks?

It might take President Donald Trump’s intervention to spur the Senate HELP Committee to craft a package of reforms to stabilize Obamacare’s fragile markets, panelists discussing health care reform said.

“I think we have a good chance of passing a bipartisan bill in both [chambers],” said Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), listing off provisions like funding for Obamacare’s cost-sharing reductions and spending on ads and outreach, which HHS recently cut back. “Most Americans want us to improve the Affordable Care Act, and most members of Congress do as well.”

Former Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, who expanded Medicaid in his state, countered: “I don’t think the leadership of the House or the Senate will make this happen. They need to head to the White House” and get Trump involved.

— Dan Diamond


What to Watch

Health care panel

The summit kicks off with the issue that never dies: What will Congress do about health care? That’s especially timely this week, with Senate Democrats and Republicans pulled between three different efforts — whether to tear down Obamacare, stabilize it or replace it with Medicare-for-all.

What to watch on the health care panel at the first plenary session: How Marilyn Tavenner — the head of America’s Health Insurance Plans and the nation’s top health insurance lobbyist — addresses the bipartisan Senate effort to patch Obamacare’s troubled insurance markets, and if Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) thinks any legislation to repair the ACA has a chance in the House. Meanwhile, Tevi Troy, a conservative policy analyst and former top HHS official, and ex-Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear may have on-the-ground insights into Republican efforts to roll back the health law.

Space panel

The commercial space realm is an emerging — and largely unregulated — policy area that the second plenary will explore. Key questions policymakers are wrestling with include how much the government should regulate space and how traditional defense contractors can work with entrepreneurial commercial companies to make the space program stronger through more competition.

What to watch on the space panel: What Rep. John Culberson, a top appropriator for space matters, and George Whitesides, the CEO of Virgin Galactic, say about where there can be greater cooperation between traditional contractors and new companies, what the government can do to facilitate commercial access to space and what their hopes are for the administration’s stated focus on space.

Cybersecurity panel

House Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam Schiff — the leader of the lower chamber’s high-profile investigation into Russia’s meddling during last year’s election — sits down for the third plenary amid escalating concerns about the role Facebook’s platform played in helping the undermine the presidential race. The social media giant recently revealed that Russian fronts purchased geographically-targeted ads during the campaign, and it was later reported that Russian operatives used Facebook pages to promote anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rallies in the U.S.

What to watch on the cybersecurity panel: Schiff’s rundown about whether the committee wants to bring Facebook officials to Capitol Hill for a briefing and what questions he thinks the Silicon Valley stalwart needs to answer. And listen to Crowdstrike co-founder Dmitri Alperovitch, who had a front row seat to last year’s election hacks after his firm was called in to eradicate the alleged Russian hackers from the Democratic National Committee’s networks, detail what those groups are up to now and what they might try to do in the 2018 election.

FDA panel

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb is on the hook to talk about how his regulatory philosophy — at an agency whose primary purpose is to regulate the safety of food, drugs, cosmetics and tobacco — fits in with the broader Trump administration deregulatory agenda.

What to watch on the FDA panel: Gottlieb will be pressed on what areas of regulation he thinks the FDA can back down on or revise and what regulations need to stay or be added to protect the public health. How does he determine when the government should intervene and when it needs to back off? Expect him to face questions on hot topics like menu labeling and regulation of e-cigarettes, as well as drug pricing and the obesity and opioid epidemics.

Ross interview

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s interview with POLITICO co-founder John Harris comes as the administration is working through a renegotiation of NAFTA, which it’s hoping to finish by the end of the year. Trump has recently revived threats to withdraw from the deal if Canada and Mexico refuse to agree to the changes he wants — something Ross has backed him up on even as most members of the Republican party and broad swaths of U.S. industry warn that doing so would bring more harm than good.

What to watch in the Ross interview: In addition to NAFTA, Ross’ department is weighing whether to limit imports of steel and aluminum for national security reasons. The timing of those reports — as well as what they will say — remains unclear.

Tax panel

House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady hopes to shepherd a comprehensive overhaul of the tax code through his committee and the House of Representatives. Ranking Member Richard Neal has told Republicans he’d like to work together on tax reform, in the spirit of the bipartisan tax reform of 1986, but that current Republican proposals don’t encourage him or his fellow Democrats. Republicans remain eager for details about a plan, but the chairman, congressional leadership and the White House remain tight-lipped for fear that outside interest groups could tee off on any items that would end or alter deductions they favor.

What to watch for on the tax panel: On Wednesday Brady promised more details for a unified framework between the House, Senate, and White House would be released the week of Sept. 25. Brady may reveal more of the direction that Republicans plan to go on tax reform, while Neal may signal some potential common ground between the parties on taxes.

Jobs in small-town America plenary

Foxconn is building a multibillion-dollar plant in Wisconsin. Apple is slated to open a data center in Iowa. And Amazon insists any city could be home to its second headquarters. As big tech pushes deeper into the American heartland — at a time when Trump wants to add jobs there — it begs the question of how state and local governments should prepare for their arrival.

What to watch for on the Jobs in Small-Town America plenary: “Rise of the Rest” advocate Steve Case will join California Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna, both of whom can be expected to tout Middle America as fertile ground for Silicon Valley-style entrepreneurship. Meanwhile, Dayton, Ohio Mayor Nan Whaley and Chauncy Lennon, the head of workforce initiatives for JP Morgan Chase’s Global Philanthropy, can address the challenges of bracing people for the changes that would bring.

John Krafcik interview

Driverless cars are all but commonplace to see in the Silicon Valley — but before they become available to the public, there are plenty of concerns policymakers will need to address. Among those are safety guidance from the Transportation Department, whether driverless trucks will hurt jobs in the future and what kinds of opportunities self-driving cars will provide to both the private and public sectors.

What to watch for the interview with self-driving car company Waymo’s CEO John Krafcik: What’s the latest from the skunkworks on the technology behind the cars and how might the growing ubiquity of autonomous vehicles change our society, economy and public policy?

Mnuchin interview

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is in the middle of tax reform negotiations, and there’s plenty of interest in details he could divulge. Questions continue to swirl around how low Trump administration officials like him and congressional Republicans can drive down tax rates, among other changes they’re considering.

What to watch for from Mnuchin: Reducing tax rates is expensive, as are other ideas in play, like letting businesses immediately write off the cost of their new investments. That means potential trade-offs — including getting rid of the deduction businesses get for interest on their loans — will prove increasingly contentious as their defenders fight to keep them on the books. Look for Mnuchin to illuminate how the administration plans to navigate this process.

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