Congress Returns Next Week; What to Expect in 2014
Congress returns next week and the hard work begins right away. Despite the year-end budget deal, the government runs out of money in mid-January so Congressional Appropriators still have to finish up spending bills as soon as possible. Once that is done, the next fight will be over raising the nation’s debt ceiling, which must be dealt with by mid-February. In addition, several key priority issues for NECA are on the agenda, and here is a brief synopsis of what we believe must be addressed and how we think these issues will play out over the new year.
For more than two years, NECA has been working with Congress to address the challenges facing the multiemployer pension system, including changing demographics, unfunded benefit liabilities, and the projected insolvency of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. With the Pension Protection Act of 2006 set to expire at the end of 2014, NECA is confident that Congress will address pension reform this year. Under the guidance of the National Coordinating Committee Multiemployer Plan (NCCMP) Retirement Security Review Commission report entitled "Solutions not Bailouts: A Comprehensive Plan from Business and Labor to Safeguard Multiemployer Retirement Security, Protect Taxpayers and Spur Economic Growth," Congress is likely to pass a bill that will strengthen current funding rules, offer additional tools for the deeply troubled plans heading toward insolvency, and create new flexible plan design options aimed to reduce employers risk and eliminate withdrawal liabilities. NECA will continue to work with Congress to ensure that the problems that NECA contractors are faced with are addressed in whatever pension legislation is brought up and passed before the December 2014 deadline.
Many more provisions of President Obama’s signature health care reform measure, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), went into effect on January 1. Pre-existing conditions are no longer a factor and millions of people now have insurance thanks to the law's coverage provisions, but many more problems presented by the ACA continue. The most pressing issue for NECA contractors and NECA health and welfare plans concerns the imposition of the Transitional Reinsurance Fee on all NECA plans. On November 18, 2013, NECA sent a letter to Congress in support of H.R. 3489, bipartisan legislation introduced by Representatives Pat Tiberi (R-OH) and Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) that would repeal the current funding mechanism for the Transitional Reinsurance Program authorized by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. In 2013, NECA reported on the Obama Administration's new proposed rule that would make further changes to current rules governing the Affordable Care Act. Don't forget to send a letter to your Representative asking them to vote to repeal the Transitional Reinsurance Fee.
While comprehensive tax reform did not pass in 2013, Senate and House tax writers did a fair amount to lay the groundwork for reform. Now that Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) is retiring early to become Ambassador to China, it is possible that incoming Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) will provide the needed kick to get something done. It is clear comprehensive tax reform is the number one issue on everyone’s agenda. Right behind that are the 55 tax “extenders” and policy provisions that expired at the end of 2013. In the meantime, there are other key tax issues on the table, including changes to online sales tax and changes to how health care is financed.
2014 will be a do or die year for big-ticket infrastructure legislation. A NECA priority, many related measures that Congress must address means real work and real jobs for NECA contractors nationwide. Senate and House negotiators are already working on wrapping up a long-delayed water resources bill. Going forward, other measures governing highway, transit and rail policy will be on the table before we know it and these bills almost always lose the battle for the calendar in the face of other “must-pass” legislation such as budget, appropriations, and defense bills.
Several years into this process and the Keystone XL pipeline is still being held hostage to several opposing forces. Unfortunately, many of these forces are within the Obama Administration. At this point, the State Department will finally release its final environmental report on the pipeline by the end of March, and even if that report allows it to move forward, there are still several additional steps that must be taken before final approval. In the meantime, energy efficiency legislation remains in limbo as well. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Rob Portman (R-OH) are expected to reintroduce their long-standing bill. Now that a deal has been cut allowing for consideration of more amendments, it is hoped the bill will not fall to filibuster fights the same as last year’s version. All that is left is for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to actually schedule the bill on the Senate floor.