The eyes of the political world will focus on Election Day next year. But 2016 will also see President Obama try to boost his legacy while a new House speaker attempts to establish his leadership.
Obama will be put under increasing pressure to intensify his fight against the Islamic State. Look also for pitched battles in Congress over whether Iran cheats on the nuclear deal. Obama's signature items such as the Clean Power Plan and Trans-Pacific Partnership will come under attack, as will Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act.
The technological tools Washington uses to prevent terrorist attacks will fall under heavy scrutiny, while the Federal Reserve will wrestle over the best way to reverse the emergency stimulus it began when Obama came into office.
The Washington Examiner pored over major policy areas and compiled this detailed outlook for next year.
House Speaker Paul Ryan will keep lawmakers busy in 2016 on policy proposals he hopes will show voters Republicans have serious ideas and deserve to govern not only from Congress but from the White House as well.
The last thing congressional leaders did before Ryan took over as the highest ranking Republican in the nation was clear the decks on spending. They reached a two-year budget deal, which should make it easier to finalize federal spending through the elections in November. This January, the Obama administration will propose its fiscal 2017 budget, which is the second year covered by the deal.
Members will want to return to their districts to seek re-election, and the absence of major spending fights will let Republicans seek headway on issues they think give them an advantage.
One is Obamacare. Ryan has said that, as in years past, Republicans will vote on legislation to repeal and replace the controversial healthcare law. This time around, though, they will put forward a real replacement plan, instead of just repeal.
"If we want to save the country, then we need a mandate from the people," Ryan said this month. "And if we want a mandate, then we need to offer ideas. And if we want to offer ideas, then we need to actually have ideas."
It's part of Ryan's plan to be not just an opposition party but also a "proposition" party.
Ryan will also push lawmakers to devise and vote on a tax reform plan, something near and dear to his heart from when he served on the House Ways & Means Committee.
"The only way to fix our broken tax code is to simplify, simplify, simplify," Ryan said. "Close all those loopholes and use that money to cut tax rates for everybody. Take the seven tax rates we have now and collapse them to two or three."
Congress failed to secure any kind of tax reform as part of a long-term highway funding bill. But Ryan is still hoping he can put ideas into the White House and force Obama to show his hand on whether he supports or rejects those ideas.
Other ideas have been floating around that might also find their way to the House floor. These include welfare reform and new ways to promote job growth, but also ideas related to the efforts to destroy the Islamic State.
Republicans have been picking apart what they say has been President Obama's doomed efforts to rein in the jihadis. But the GOP seems resigned to the idea that the U.S. won't take more aggressive steps in the Middle East to fight the terrorist group until a Republican is in the White House.
In the meantime, Republicans have been pursuing ideas related to border security and refugee policy. Some of these, including a plan to boost screening for refugees from Syria, may continue to fuel legislative efforts in Congress throughout the year, particularly if the U.S. is faced with more terrorism events on American soil.
Whatever the House passes is likely to stall in the Senate, as Democrats will defend Obama and Hillary Clinton, the most likely Democratic candidate to face off against Republicans. The GOP is likely to say that's all the more reason to keep Republicans in charge of both the House and Senate.
President Obama will most likely spend his last full year in office trying to protect his legacy by blocking Republican efforts to dismantle it.
His remaining major priorities are overhauling the nation's criminal justice system and convincing Congress to sign off on the signature piece of his "pivot to Asia" — the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership.
On criminal justice, the president's prospects look good. Bipartisan packages are working their way through both chambers of Congress and the issue has brought together the kind of strange bedfellows needed to win major policy changes in an era of divided government.
Obama outlined his ideas for revamping criminal justice in a speech to the NAACP in Philadelphia in June. He's focusing on the "community, the courtroom and the cellblock." He wants to eliminate or cut mandatory sentences for nonviolent drug offenders and wants the system to focus on prison alternatives, such as drug courts and probation, for those people.
"Do we really think it makes sense to lock so many people alone in tiny cells for 23 hours a day, sometimes for months or even years at a time?" Obama asked then. "That is not going to make us safer ... our prisons should be a place where we can train people for skills that can help them find a job, not train them to become more hardened criminals."
He also wants to reinstate the vote to ex-cons and to "ban the box," which is to forbid employers from asking job applicants about their criminal records.
In November he issued an executive order instructing the Office of Personnel Management to prohibit government agencies initially asking would-be hires if they have a criminal past.
He wants "to keep on making progress on job training and making sure that the idea of two years of free community college starts taking root," he said during a "Daily Show" appearance in July.
Even though negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership ended in October, Congress may not vote on ratification until Obama's last month in office. Election-year politics will probably stop it coming to the floor, leaving most experts predicting Congress will punt it to a lame-duck session next year, or possibly to 2017.
Obama would also like to leave office with the 1965 Voting Rights Act updated to comply with a 2013 Supreme Court decision that stripped the federal government's power to require certain states to clear changes to voting laws with the Justice Department.
Although bipartisan bills addressing the high court's concerns are pending in Congress, neither the House nor the Senate Judiciary chairmen have scheduled markups for the legislation as both maintain that the rest of the law adequately defends the rights of minority voters.
Republicans have not shown interest in the issue even though civil rights groups are clamoring for a legislative fix before November's elections.
Congress has long thwarted Obama on two other priorities: closing the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and tightening gun laws. In both cases he might invoke executive authority on his way out the door.
His biggest disappointments could come in the form of Congress rolling back his accomplishments or blocking rules his administration used to advance his agenda without input from Capitol Hill.
Every aspect of his environmental agenda is under siege on various fronts, congressional, state and judicial, and it's unclear how much will remain. Republicans have long sought to repeal the Obamacare and have gotten help from courts. Congressional Republicans could also succeed at undoing more provisions of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law.
Obama will also lose important allies before his term expires.
The highest-profile so far is Education Secretary Arne Duncan, a fellow Chicagoan and member of Obama's inner circle, who is stepping down at year's end. His deputy, former New York State Education Commissioner John King, will serve in an acting capacity, the norm for late-term agency heads.
Perhaps more crippling is the loss of lieutenants below secretary level, who stream out of government to more lucrative private-sector jobs in the final year of any administration. Finalizing rules and regulations and pushing legislation is hard enough for any lame-duck, but often made harder by a dearth of deputies to lead the day-to-day charge.
The Affordable Care Act will turn six years old in March and all its largest provisions are in place. But some changes are still on the way.
Starting Jan. 1, its requirement for businesses to offer affordable coverage to workers will fully kick in after being twice delayed by the administration. It's already in effect for companies with more than 100 employees, but now it will also apply to those with 50 employees or more.
A majority of those mid-size companies supply benefits already, but at a somewhat lower rate than big employers, which is why the administration gave businesses with 50-100 workers one extra year to comply with the mandate.
When the third year of enrollment in the Obamacare insurance marketplaces wraps up at the end of January, many will be watching to see if the administration hit its reduced target of 10 million signups.
A bigger question will be whether major insurers quit the markets or stay in for the fourth enrollment season. UnitedHealth, one of the major five insurers, recently threatened to pull out, saying it was losing too much money because too few healthy people were signing up.
If United leaves, and others follow, it could dramatically decrease competition in the marketplaces, driving up prices.
There could be some changes to how Kentucky and Louisiana handle the law's expansion of Medicaid, the federal insurance program for people on low incomes.
Kentucky is one of 31 states that accepted Medicaid expansion, but Matt Bevin, the new Republican governor, may change that. He promised during his campaign to roll back expansion, but now says he may just tighten eligibility requirements and impose more rules.
"There's real people involved, and I'm going to make sure that we do this in as seamless a way as possible to make sure people are well covered without upsetting their lives," Bevin recently told Louisville TV station WDRB.
Louisiana could find itself in a reverse situation, as newly elected Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards succeeds Republican Bobby Jindal, one of the fiercest critics of the healthcare law. Louisiana is among many southern states that haven't expanded Medicaid, but Edwards seems likely to do so.
"Expanding access to healthcare for Louisiana's working families is one of my top priorities," he said last week when announcing a new committee to examine how to expand Medicaid. "These are our tax dollars going to other states when we could be using them right here at home.
Two big healthcare cases are before the Supreme Court this term. It is expected to hear, probably in March, a second challenge to Obamacare's birth control mandate, and a case against new abortion provider regulations in Texas.
In the birth control case, seven nonprofit organizations say the administration's offer of a form of exemption doesn't go nearly far enough and they should be entirely excused from participation in that sort of coverage.
The administration says insurance plans offered by churches don't have to cover birth control, but religious hospitals, charities and schools will be excused only if they sign a form delegating responsibility to the insurer. The nonprofit groups argue that this is a distinction without a moral difference and abridges their freedom of religion.
The second case is the first major abortion rights challenge to come to the Supreme Court in nearly a decade. It involves a Texas law requiring abortion centers to meet new requirements applied to ambulatory surgical centers and require abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges.
When the Texas legislature passed the law in 2013, it prompted an outcry from abortion rights supporters, who called the new standards unnecessary and said they were simply aimed at closing clinics. The court's decision would probably affect laws in other states, which have passed similar bills.
The Food and Drug Administration is planning to release or implement several major regulations next year.
Early in 2016 the agency plans to release long-awaited regulations for e-cigarettes including a ban on sales to minors and consumer testing for a variety of e-cigarette products.
The agency's controversial rule on calorie counts on menus is also supposed to go into effect in December 2016. The rule was ordered by Obamacare to fight obesity, but has been met with stiff criticism from business.
Critics point to a recent study in New York, which has had a calorie count rule in effect for years with little effect on obesity rates.
The Senate is expected to take up its own companion legislation to the 21st Century Cures Act that passed the House in a bipartisan vote this year.
The legislation includes new provisions to speed up the approval of medical devices and pharmaceuticals and boost funding for the National Institutes of Health.
Healthcare wonks will also be watching to see whether the Senate confirms Andy Slavitt to run the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the top agency charged with implementing the Affordable Care Act. Slavitt has been serving as acting administrator since Marilyn Tavenner stepped down in January, but it's unclear whether lawmakers will confirm him before the Obama administration ends next year.
If senators do begin actively debating his confirmation, the discussion is likely to be peppered with discord over the healthcare law and how CMS is overseeing its rollout. At least one Republican, Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, has vowed to block Slavitt's confirmation until his agency explains more fully what led to the collapse of half the law's nonprofit insurance co-ops.
Expect President Obama to face pressure to revise his strategy against the Islamic State this year, as terrorist attacks from Paris to San Bernardino, Calif., have increased support among Americans for more U.S. ground troops.
The U.S. could see an uptick in the number of combat troops in Syria in 2016, with the administration reportedly saying it would consider deploying more special operators if the first group of 50 is successful. The battlefield could also shift as spec ops troops comprising the new expeditionary targeting force deploy to Iraq.
Justin Johnson, a defense analyst with the Heritage Foundation, said he expects the administration to send more ground troops but that it would be such a small number that it wouldn't turn the tide of the fight.
"I think it's probably going to be this slow drip, incremental increase," Johnson said. "These special operators, these guys are fantastic, but 50 or 100 or 200, you're still talking about a pretty small footprint, a pretty small force against thousands that are in ISIS. I'm not very optimistic that small of a change is going to change the strategic picture at all."
In Iran, the U.S. and other members of the international community are expected to lift sanctions on Tehran early in the year, with some reports suggesting the substantial financial relief could come as early as January.
The sanctions will be lifted as soon as the International Atomic Energy Agency can confirm that Iran has stopped its work to acquire a nuclear weapon in accordance with the terms of this year's deal.
Lifting the sanctions could unfreeze about $100 billion in Iranian oil revenue currently locked in offshore accounts.
2016 will also be the final opportunity for the president to make good on a campaign promise to close the military detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The fiscal 2016 National Defense Authorization Act requires the administration to submit a plan on its detainee policy to Congress by February, including accurate cost estimates to close the prison.
In 2015, Pentagon teams visited military and public prisons in South Carolina, Kansas and Colorado to evaluate the cost of retrofitting facilities and transferring Gitmo detainees who can't be released to the U.S.
Johnson said closing Guantanamo could prove difficult in an election year, given the increased focus on terrorism among the public. Still, he said, it's not out of the question for Obama to try to shutter the prison through an executive order in his lame-duck period after the election.
Congress also may tackle reforming the military healthcare system in 2016. Johnson said leaders of both the House and Senate Armed Services Committees have indicated that they'd like to implement some of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission recommendations next year, a move that so far has bipartisan support.
Here is a roundup of major programs:
- The Marine Corps' variant of Lockheed Martin's F-35 is already approved for operations, but the Air Force is expected to reach initial operating capability in December. The Navy's variant, which can launch and land on a shortened carrier flight deck, won't be operational until 2019.
- The Air Force awarded the contract for its next generation long-range strike bomber this year to Northrop Grumman, but work halted in November when the joint team of Boeing and Lockheed Martin filed a protest. A decision on the protest is expected by Feb. 16.
- The Pentagon is expected to approve formal production in the first quarter of 2016 of Boeing's KC-46 tanker, which completed its first test flights in September.
- The Air Force intends to issue a request for proposals to build its new T-X two-seat jet trainer near the end of fiscal 2016, with a contract awarded in the fall of 2017.
- While the Navy is expected to announce some major milestone decisions on the replace for its Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines in 2016, procurement isn't expected to begin until 2017.
- The Navy's newest stealth destroyer Zumwalt, which began its first at-sea tests this month, is expected to be deemed fleet-ready sometime in 2016. The first is the first of three and is being built by General Dynamics' Bath Iron Works.
- The Navy is also expected to receive the first of its new Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers in March. The class replaces the Nimitz class of carriers and are built by Huntington Ingalls Industries.
- Production is slated to begin in 2016 on the next generation Humvee, and deliveries of the Oshkosh Joint Light Tactical Vehicle are expected to begin in June.
Inside the Pentagon, the department is facing two major personnel shifts in 2016: integrating women into combat positions and potentially lifting the ban on transgender troops.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced this month that he would be opening all combat positions to women, believing many of the problems raised by the Marine Corps could be solved through implementation.
Each service must submit their final plan to integrate women by Jan. 1. All positions across the services will open to women between Jan. 2 and April 1.
These implementation plans are expected to address concerns including how many women are interested in joining combat specialties, ways to mitigate higher injury rates among women due to physiological differences and how leaders can shift the culture of the military to accept women into previously closed units.
While the jobs will be opened in 2016, a Government Accountability Office report released this year said it could be years before women are seen in some specialties. A defense official told reporters that it will take longer for women to get into jobs like infantry or armor, since they'll need to go to specific schools, some of which have long waits.
Members of Congress could also wrestle with the issue of whether to expand the draft to include women as a result of Carter's announcement.
In another major shift in personnel policy, Carter announced in July the formation of a working group to conduct a six-month study of the policy and readiness consequences of allowing openly transgender troops to serve, which is expected to be completed by mid-January.
Early results from the working group suggested the ban would be lifted May 27, according to reports from a draft memo obtained by USA Today.
The working group is expected to establish guidelines on issues ranging from uniform and grooming standards to the availability of gender-related medical care like hormone replacement therapy to how integrating transgender troops may affect unit cohesion, according to the American Military Partner Association.
Many of the military leaders at the Pentagon are expected to stay in place for the remainder of Obama's presidency. The past year was marked by major turnover in the top ranks, including the defense secretary, the chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as the leaders of the Army, Navy and Marine Corps. But several new regional military chiefs will be named in 2016.
Gen. Lloyd Austin, the head of U.S. Central Command, could be replaced by Gen. Joseph Votel, who leads U.S. Special Operations Command, Defense One reported. Gen. Phil Breedlove, NATO supreme allied commander, and Gen. David Rodriguez, commander of U.S. Africa Command, are also due for rotations or retirements in 2016, the article says.
A change of command at U.S. Northern Command could make history. If Adm. Bill Gortney retires before the end of his term, President Obama has said he would like to name a woman to the role before he leaves office in 2017, marking the first female to lead a combatant command, NPR reported.
Gen. Lori Robinson, the commander of U.S. Air Forces Pacific, and Adm. Michelle Howard, the vice chief of naval operations, are both reportedly being considered for the job.
Their ideas won't be signed into law, but congressional Republicans will try to pass legislation in 2016 outlining their ideas for tax policy.
House Speaker Paul Ryan said in November that the House would pass tax reform in order to provide an alternative to Democrats in the 2016 election. That task, a pet priority of Ryan's, is a massive undertaking, and one that could provide a more realistic sense of where the GOP is headed on a feature of the law that affects every person, as opposed to presidential candidates' pie-in-the-sky proposals.
"We believe we ought to show what we would do differently in specifics, and lay that out to the country so we can have that kind of affirming election," Ryan said at a conference hosted by The Wall Street Journal.
Like the GOP candidates, House Republicans are likely to try to lower tax rates while expanding the tax base by removing tax breaks for companies and families. To clear the House, members lobbied by every interest group in Washington will have to come together, meaning the final product will reflect hard-won compromises even if Democrats aren't involved.
Republicans will also seek opportunities to chip away at the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, including through elements of the banking reform package authored by Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee. That bill would touch most aspects of the financial regulatory system, including the bailed-out government-sponsored mortgage enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Obama has left the resolution of the two businesses to his successor, and Republicans could lay the groundwork for a Republican president to take action.
The main action, however, will not take place in Congress, but at the other end of Constitution Avenue, where the Federal Reserve will have to try to reverse the emergency stimulus programs it launched during the financial crisis.
Over the past seven years, during which time it held short-term interest rates at zero, the Fed has racked up a $4.5 trillion balance sheet. As it seeks to raise rates in 2016, it will have to sketch out a plan for managing or selling off those bonds without letting inflation rise out of control or causing turmoil in financial markets.
"There's a huge temptation to tell ourselves a story, as we did during the housing bubble, 'Oh, that's not going to be a problem. That's not going to blow up and cause a recession,'" Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis president James Bullard said in a December interview with the Washington Post.
At the same time, Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen also faces the risk that the economy might not grow at the pace she and her colleagues are expecting. That worry is magnified by the fact that China and other developing countries are confronting slowing growth, a development that could be exacerbated by the Fed tightening monetary policy. Should those worries spill over into the U.S., the Fed would have to weigh lowering rates again.
Meanwhile, the Treasury Department will be locked in its own struggle with overseas threats. Given congressional inaction, the Treasury has sought administratively to stop U.S. companies from escaping taxes by moving their headquarters overseas through so-called corporate inversions.
Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has twice announced rules meant to make it harder for companies to merge with foreign businesses in low-tax jurisdictions to place their new combined headquarters there. He's also unveiled rules to undercut the tax benefits companies can reap through such moves, and promised further efforts to stop U.S. companies from "stripping" taxable U.S. earnings and shifting them to foreign headquarters in tax havens. Whether those rules can protect the U.S. tax base before the next president has a chance to fix the problem will be the test.
Dodd-Frank made the treasury secretary the head of a new super group of federal regulators empowered to identify and regulate any threats to the financial system, whether on or off Wall Street. One of the firms it labeled such a threat, the life insurer MetLife, is fighting back. MetLife's suit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., is a challenge not just to its own treatment, but also to the constitutional authority of the Financial Stability Oversight Council.
The council is one of the provisions of the 2010 law meant to prevent another instance like the failure of the insurer AIG, which nearly brought down Wall Street in 2008 through its huge derivatives contracts with banks.
As far as financial regulation goes, the biggest development in 2016 is likely to come not from one of the banking regulations, but from the Department of Labor.
The department is aiming to finalize a rule given high priority by Obama and backed by liberals like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., one that would tighten the rules against conflicts of interest in retirement planning.
The rule, known as the fiduciary rule, would require that financial advisers act as fiduciaries to their clients, that is, act in their best interests. That legal standard, the White House has argued, would help defend workers from losing $17 billion annually because advisers steer them into inappropriate high-fee investment products that the advisers are compensated for selling. While the financial services industry has lobbied intensively to delay or modify the rule, most observers think that Obama wants the rule in place as he leaves office.
"We're going to aggressively oppose any effort by Republicans to water down the that rule," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in a December briefing.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are preparing to move to a next round of cybersecurity issues in 2016, although the pieces will be familiar, contentious and perhaps impossible to resolve in an election year.
Over the past three Congresses, at least dating back to 2011, the cyber debate has centered on creating a legal structure for government and industry to share "cyberthreat indicators" that could provide tip-offs to imminent attacks or help mitigate the effects of breaches.
With that issue close to resolution, many members of Congress and industry representatives believe the next big issue will be data security standards and breach notification, addressing the big hacks that have rattled consumers for years.
Data-breach bills have now passed the House Energy and Commerce and Financial Services committees, but here's the rub: competing industry coalitions support one version and adamantly oppose the other. The retail sector backs the Energy and Commerce bill; the financial community supports the Financial Services panel's version.
In the Senate, the issue stalled in the Banking, Commerce and Judiciary committees. An effort to add a breach-notification measure to the big Senate cyberinfo-sharing bill was turned aside last summer.
If there is to be progress on the issue, senators, including Tom Carper, D-Del., and Roy Blunt, R-Mo., will probably be in the middle of the action. They've sponsored the only bipartisan bill in the Senate, which sits at the Banking Committee.
Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, No. 3 in the Republican leadership and chairman of the Commerce Committee, also has shown interest in the issue.
"The business community is so divided, it's hard to see this issue getting legs," said an industry source who is unaligned with either banking or retail. "But it's the kind of issue that could be worked on through the year with an eye on 2017."
Another issue sure to get attention in 2016 is "strong encryption," and whether and how law enforcement should get access into the "dark spaces" of the Internet concealed by encrypted communications.
The Paris terrorist attacks provoked a heated debate over encryption, but no answers. House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, early in the new year will propose creating a national commission to present options on encryption for congressional consideration.
Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., and others may propose a more aggressive approach: requiring tech companies to keep a "key" into encrypted devices that can be used under court order.
Along these lines, congressional judiciary committees are interested in revisiting international law enforcement issues raised by cybercrimes and attacks. Watch for moves by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., in this space.
Off Capitol Hill, 2016 could be a make-or-break year for an industry-led approach to cybersecurity, as regulators eye a more compulsory approach.
"Our biggest fear is an incident which then drives regulation," one industry representative said.
A new industry group — the Multi-Association Cybersecurity Framework Development Initiative, led by Robert Mayer of the U.S. Telecom Association and John Miller of the Information Technology Industry Council — will be promoting the industry-based approach and trying to encourage greater use of the voluntary framework of cybersecurity standards developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
Mayer has been a leader in the telecom sector's efforts to create a "new paradigm" around cybersecurity, the concept championed by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Thomas Wheeler as a post-regulatory approach that actually has teeth.
The stakes will be high as state and federal regulators — in the financial, energy and other sectors — appear increasingly eager to move from the wings to center stage in the cybersecurity policy debate.
The Federal Communications Commission's move to regulate Internet providers is set to continue well into 2016 and beyond.
"Yes," former FCC commissioner Harold Furchtgott-Roth said when asked if the FCC's decision to reclassify Internet service providers as utilities would still be in the courts in 2017. "I think either side will appeal defeat. There's also some chance that it's kind of a mixed decision, the court rules one way for the commission, and on one issue or another it rules another way," Furchgott-Roth told the Washington Examiner.
The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments over the FCC's "net neutrality" regulations on Dec. 4. The rules reclassified Internet service providers as Title II utilities according to a 1934 law. Democrats on the FCC have argued they are necessary to prevent ISPs from blocking websites or charging consumers higher rates in order to receive better service. However, plaintiffs, which include several major trade associations, argue that the FCC improperly usurped congressional authority using an antiquated law.
"Because of the complexity and potential patchwork outcome of the legal process, the best solution is for Congress to enshrine important net neutrality protections into law and eliminate the negative consequences and continuing uncertainty caused by the FCC's decision to put the modern Internet under an antiquated regulatory regime," National Cable and Telecommunications Association President Michael Powell said in a statement.
Robert McDowell, another former FCC commissioner, told the Examiner that "the FCC reached beyond the authority given to it by Congress."
That's led some observers to talk about using congressional appropriations to defund enactment of the rules, or having the next president appoint commissioners who will repeal them.
However, Furchgott-Roth said defunding was hard to envision, and that repeal would take years. "A new commission could hypothetically overturn this, but they would have to open up a proceeding and go through a public notice of rule-making," he said. "It might take 12-18 months."
He added that the appropriations process would be even more difficult. "Congress could in theory condition appropriations on not enforcing the network neutrality rules. In practice though, the FCC today is a self-funding agency ... It has a formal appropriations process, but it doesn't get its money from the Treasury, it gets money from user fees."
Consequently, the judicial process looks to be the most likely avenue for those hoping to see the rules abolished. In addition to the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, major trade associations that have led litigation include the American Cable Association, the U.S. Telecom Association and CTIA, which represents wireless companies such as T-Mobile and Sprint.
Furchgott-Roth said it was reasonable to expect a decision from the appellate court in the first few months of the year. "The D.C. circuit usually tends to be pretty efficient at getting decisions out," he said.
Yet in the nearly inevitable event that the losing party appeals the case to the Supreme Court, Roth added that neither side is going to see a timely end to the issue.
"Think about what's been going on with President Obama's immigration order, which the Justice Department appealed to the Supreme Court this session," he said, referencing Obama's effort to bestow legal status on 4 million immigrants. That effort has been languishing in the courts since May, with a decision from the Supreme Court expected in mid-2016.
"Even that's extraordinarily rushed. The network neutrality decision is going to be months behind," Roth added.
Although the presidential election will decide the future of many of President Obama's policy priorities, you can bet that the host of his climate and environment regulations will come under attack by the GOP going into 2016.
The list of rules is long. There's the Clean Power Plan, ozone rules, methane rules, emission controls for refineries and Waters of the U.S., among others. Most have, or soon will, incur lawsuits. In addition, Congress has continued to go after the president's environmental legacy by voting to block many of his key regulations to hold back his far-reaching climate change agenda.
Most of that will continue in 2016. And that covers only the administration's regulatory policy.
Energy production problems, stemming from the crude oil glut, will continue in 2016, while low natural gas prices will continue to shift the nation away from coal and toward gas-fired electricity. Emission rules for cars are also another big concern as the Volkswagen scandal is expected to continue to unravel in the new year. Last summer, it was revealed that the auto giant purposefully sought to undercut environmental rules to optimize the performance of its fleet of diesel cars.
On the personnel side, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission goes into the new year with only one Republican on the nation's utility regulator, after long-serving GOPer Philip Moeller retired from the commission this year. The commission is supposed to be split evenly between the parties with the chairman being from the party in power.
Here's a list of a number of specific issues to look out for:
Volkswagen announces a recall plan for the nearly 500,000 vehicles containing software to cheat emissions tests.
Iran ups production of oil to 3.3 million barrels per day, driving up supply and continuing a worldwide oil glut.
D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to decide on a 27-state motion to stay EPA's Clean Power Plan motion, placing a damper on climate agenda.
Court action will heat up on EPA's contentious new ozone rules for controlling smog. Industry calls them the most expensive in history.
Methane rules that the oil and gas sector say they don't need will enter final stage before becoming law in the summer.
Lawsuits could come from the oil and ethanol industries next year over EPA's latest ethanol mandate.
The energy tax reform debate will continue as the GOP looks to repeal vital renewable energy subsidies for the clean energy industry.
The oil export bill will come to the Senate in early 2016, as the chamber follows suit by voting on its version of a comprehensive energy bill.
Nicole Duran, Pete Kasperowicz, Robert King, Jacqueline Klimas, Joseph Lawler, Charlie Mitchell, John Siciliano, Rudy Takala and Paige Winfield Cunningham