Rep. Messer Appointed to Task Force on Reigning in Federal Government, Empowering States

Congressman Luke Messer (IN-06) was recently appointed by House Speaker Paul Ryan to serve on the recently created bipartisan Task Force on Intergovernmental Affairs, which is charged with working to restore the proper balance of power between federal, state and local governments.

Messer is among seven Republican House members appointed to the 13-member task force.

“Indiana has proven time and again that the best government is closest to the people it serves,” Messer said. “Our states, cities and counties are the true engine for innovation in government. I’m excited to work on this task force to combat federal overreach and return power to states.”

The task force will partner with state and local governments to determine where the federal government has overstepped and come up with solutions to return control to states and local entities. The task force will also provide a forum for states, cities and counties to showcase innovation and creativity in solving public policy problems.

“Federalism is not a Republican or Democrat principle, but an American principle – and one that is integral to a thriving culture and economy,” Speaker Ryan said. “But in recent years, the principle of federalism has been slowly chipped away at by an overzealous federal government. Under Chairman Rob Bishop’s leadership, the Task Force on Intergovernmental Affairs will study ways to restore the proper balance of power between the federal government and states, tribal and local governments, and eliminate unnecessary regulatory burdens facing communities across the nation.”

MEMBERSHIP

CHAIRMAN:
Speaker’s Designee Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT)

REPUBLICANS:
Rep. Luke Messer (R-IN)
Rep. Gary Palmer (R-AL)
Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC)
Rep. John Culberson (R-TX)
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY)
Rep. Jenniffer Gonzáles-Colón (R-PR)

DEMOCRATS:
Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA)
Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ)
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA)
Rep. Norma Torres (D-CA)
Rep. Anthony Brown (D-MD)
Rep. Charlie Crist (D-FL)

ADVISORY COUNCIL TO THE TASK FORCE:
National Association of Counties (NACo)
National Governors Association (NGA)
Council of State Governments (CSG)
National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL)
National League of Cities (NLC)
U.S. Conference of Mayors
International City/County Management Association (ICMA)

We Can Check These Education Matters Off the List (For Now)

For the last decade, the Chamber has strongly advocated to have a state-funded high quality pre-K program for children from low-income families. While we were successful in achieving a small pilot program for five counties a few years ago, we were able to significantly increase the state’s investment this legislative session. The Chamber helped to lead a strong coalition of community leaders, businesses, philanthropies and providers to achieve $44 million appropriated in the two-year budget (HB 1001) to expand the pilot. We can now increase the number of counties from the original five to up to 20, with a preference given to rural areas.

Separately, we successfully advocated for a lowering of the county match of dollars from a base of 10% down to 5%. In addition, we worked on offering up to 20% of the appropriated dollars to be used for capacity-building grants to allow for providers to grow more high-quality placements. This was a priority for both the House and Senate leadership, as well as Gov. Holcomb and the final bills passed with strong bipartisan votes of 82-16 and 31-19, respectively.

The Chamber also were able to pass a bill (SB 248) that would allow small school corporations situated in the same or adjoining counties to consolidate services if 20% of legal voters in both school districts petition the trustees of their respective school corporations. A small school consolidation grant that was originally included in this bill was moved into the budget to help offset costs. The Indiana Chamber has been supportive of this legislation in previous sessions and most recently, the Indiana Chamber Foundation has commissioned and is finalizing a study that shows the direct correlation between smaller school corporations and lower postsecondary attainment for students.

The Chamber has had a long-standing policy to support the opportunity to reduce administrative costs by merging or consolidating administrative services in smaller school districts, which we believe will in turn reduce the duplication of programs or services, increase cost efficiencies relating to the use of school facilities, plus reduce debt and provide for establishing other cost-cutting measures.

And we can now check off a legislative agenda item that the Chamber has been advocating for over 30 years to complete. House Bill 1005 will move the Superintendent of Public Instruction from an elected to appointed position. We had originally advocated for this bill with an effective date of 2021 (and therefore no election in 2020); however, the Senate version of the bill died by surprise on the Senate floor on third reading. That meant to consider the House version (which was virtually identical), the content had to be “substantially different” than the failed bill, per Senate rules.

Therefore, the Senate amended the bill to change the effective date to 2025 and include a residency requirement of two years and have certain educational experience. The Chamber did not support these changes as we felt that Indiana’s education leader should be the best person available and no other appointed state agency position has such required qualifications. However, it was decided by Senate leadership and counsel that the changes had to remain for the measure to proceed. So while we are extremely happy that we were able to get the position appointed, we are disappointed with the additional requirements. The Chamber will continue to advocate for these to be stripped from statute in subsequent sessions, although we feel that it will likely be a very difficult lift.

On the Federal Front: Around the Horn

The U.S. House of Representatives was on a week-long recess, which means our delegation was back home and visiting with their constituents around the state. The Senate, however, remained in D.C. working. Both will continue on the job in Washington starting next week until their recess around Memorial Day. A few news and notes:

* Congressman Larry Bucshon, M.D. (IN-08) held a job fair in Terre Haute on Wednesday in coordination with WorkOne Western Indiana, Indiana State University and the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce. The event, held at Indiana State University’s Hulman Center, afforded potential employees the opportunity to meet with employers hiring in the Wabash Valley. A special emphasis was given to hiring veterans.

* Bucshon recently attended the Indiana Chamber’s I-69 Regional Summit in downtown Indianapolis. He was fresh from the floor vote in Congress on health care reform and also took time to meet with Chamber executives to discuss the topic.

* Congressman Jim Banks (IN-03), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, issued the following statement on Thursday regarding reports that the Trump Administration is considering sending more American troops to Afghanistan:

“I am glad that President Trump is willing to seriously consider the request of his commanders on the ground, who are asking for additional forces. We’ve been at war in Afghanistan since 2001, but in recent years, decisions about troop levels have been based on politics instead of military strategy. We’ve invested too much blood and treasure in Afghanistan to tolerate a stalemate or defeat. I look forward to learning more about the administration’s plans in the coming days.”

* U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly has released his Foundation for Families Agenda – a series of policy proposals aimed at improving the quality of life for Hoosier families. Included in the policy agenda:

  • Paid family and medical leave
  • Expanding access to pre-K and quality childcare options
  • Affordable higher education
  • Equal pay for women

Donnelly released a video explaining his agenda. He stated, “I am unveiling the Foundation for Families Agenda because we need to ensure our policies and priorities support hardworking Hoosier and American families. When our families succeed, so
does our economy. The foundation for our families should include family leave, options for affordable childcare and pre-K, access to an affordable college education, and the assurance that Hoosier women are paid equally when they do the same job as their male counterparts. These are common sense ideas that I am hopeful we can advance in a bipartisan manner in the Senate.”

* Many news organizations are speculating that a potential candidate to be the new FBI director might be the current president of Anderson University, John Pistole. Pistole is former deputy director of the FBI (and led significant counter-terrorism efforts) and past head of the Transportation Security Administration. He has declined all requests for interviews since the speculation began, but a few friends and family spoke to the Indy Star.

* Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson has been tapped to serve on President Trump’s national commission investigating the integrity of American elections; see The Northwest Indiana Times story. Vice President Mike Pence is chairing the commission.

A Flurry of Executive Orders

President Trump’s number of executive orders has now topped 30; a look at the latest that occurred during the week:

  • America First Offshore Energy Strategy – Akin to a study committee, it directs Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review the current five-year development plan on the Outer Continental Shelf for offshore oil and gas exploration, as well as review the regulations and permitting process for development and seismic research. Zinke also will take comments from the public in addition to conducting his own examination – probably through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with input from the Department of Exterior and the Environmental Protection Agency. The order also prevents Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross from designating any new or expanding existing marine monuments and/or sanctuaries. Most likely, President Trump – even if he wins another term – will be out of office before anything could really change in this area.
  • Establishment of the Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy – The goal is strengthening domestic manufacturing and reducing the trade deficit. This directive puts Peter Navarro, President Trump’s principal trade adviser, in a permanent post – one enforcing the “Buy American” policies the President has established as a priority. On a related note, signed the same day was the Order Addressing Trade Agreement Violations and Abuses. “As far as I can tell, there has never been a systematic evaluation of what has been the impact of the World Trade Organization agreement on the country as an integrated whole,” Ross said during the press announcement. The Indiana Chamber strongly supports free trade agreements that create free and fair trade for the United States. We believe that international trade touches Indiana business of all sizes at some level. With 95% of the world’s consumers outside the U.S., Indiana and the nation would be shortsighted not to recognize the benefits of maintaining and even expanding our commerce ties with other countries.
  • Establishment of the American Technology Council – The objective is to help the government transform and modernize its digital services. President Trump will preside over the group, which will give “advice to the president related to policy decisions” regarding our government’s use of information technology.
  • Order Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty – Undoubtedly heavily influenced by Vice President Mike Pence, this directive offers relief to those groups that object on religious grounds to the Affordable Health Care Act provision mandating employers to provide certain health services, including contraception. They now can lawfully not abide by this provision. The order also allows the Internal Revenue Service to exercise “maximum enforcement discretion” over the Johnson amendment, which prohibits tax-exempt religious entities from stating political endorsements or opposition to a candidate.

Budget Deal Reached in Congress – But Process Broken

The House and Senate passed a budget deal to secure federal funding until the end of September 2017 last week. The House passed the funding measure by a vote of 309 to 118 on Wednesday, and the Senate followed suit 79-18. It is important to note that the Indiana delegation was divided – and not by political party – on the $1.1 trillion spending proposal.

Republican House members Jim Banks (IN-03), Trey Hollingsworth (IN-09) and Todd Rokita (IN-04) voted against the measure, while both House Democrat members André Carson (IN-07) and Pete Visclosky (IN-01) voted yes with the rest of the Hoosier delegation.

Congressman Hollingsworth released the following statement after casting his vote against the continuing resolution. “The spending bill that was brought before the House of Representatives today failed, yet again, to address the conservative principles that Hoosiers and Americans demanded to see this past November. For this reason, I voted against the $1.1 trillion spending measure that neglected critical priorities such as our nation’s nearly $20 trillion debt.”

Similarly, Congressman Banks added: “This legislation fails to properly address our $20 trillion national debt and reduce the size and scope of the federal government. As work immediately begins on next year’s spending bills, I am hopeful that Congress will follow the regular budget order and work with the Trump Administration to cut spending and change the Washington status quo.”

Despite passage of this funding measure, negotiations will begin again soon to pass a budget starting October 1 – with many of the same arguments on spending to be rehashed. But this has become all too familiar. Congress has regularly failed to meet the deadlines required by the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 under both Republican and Democrat control. In fact, the last annual federal budget approved by the U.S. Senate was on April 29, 2009. The federal government has operated by enacting these series of continuing resolutions – short-term measures that keep the government running and spending money at previously adopted rates.

The Indiana Chamber believes this is a gross dereliction of duty, as the federal government has spent trillions since the last adopted budget, further adding to the debt.

What the Indiana Chamber would like to see is Congress move from a yearly (or semi-yearly) mad dash to a biennial budget system. This would take much of the politics out of the budget process and would encourage efficiency in the management, stability and predictability of federal funding, especially for Indiana. A biennial budget would also enhance congressional oversight of government operations and encourage better policy planning. Biennial budgets should occur during non-election years to promote bipartisanship (or at least lessen partisan tensions) in the budgetary process. We can dream!

Recent News from Washington

  • Per last Thursday’s announcement from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Indiana has been selected for a $10.9 million federal grant to fight the state’s opioid abuse epidemic. Senator Donnelly talked about this needed boost during a visit to Granger. Read the story. Congresswoman Susan Brooks (IN-05) also weighed in: “… Indiana is getting the resources it desperately needs to reduce overdose deaths; help Hoosiers get treatment for substance abuse and stay in recovery; and reduce the over-prescription of opioids.” Read Brooks’ full statement.
  • Congressman Jim Banks (IN-03) believes Congress should exert influence by authorizing military force against ISIS. He said, “Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s recent use of chemical weapons against his own people is a grim reminder of the deep challenges that continue to exist in Syria and the surrounding region.” Read his op-ed.
  • Congressman André Carson (IN-07), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, was on CNN last Wednesday talking about the situations with North Korea and Syria. Of North Korea, he said our country’s “tough talk has to get tougher”. Watch the over six-minute interview.

Donnelly Talks Policy to Chamber Group

Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly discussed a wide variety of issues with members of the Indiana Chamber’s Executive Committee during an hour-long visit last week. Among his comments on the issues before Congress:

  • Opioid crisis: Senators are working on a federal law that would limit painkiller prescriptions to one week (hopefully reducing addictive outcomes)
  • Transportation infrastructure: There will be a big bill and he believes it will pass as long as it gets paid for
  • Tax reform: Stuck for now because money to pay for it was going to come from the failed health care overhaul
  • Health care bill: Legislation can’t be passed that would result in fewer people having insurance coverage. Democrats, Donnelly noted, have ideas that should be considered

Other topics of conversion: immigration, trade agreements and global threats (Donnelly is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee).

Federal Front: Congressman Messer Launches American Worker Task Force

Congressman Luke Messer (IN-06), chair of the Republican Policy Committee, announced the launch of the Task Force for the American Worker – an effort to examine challenges facing modern-day working Americans. The task force will hold a series of hearings to examine workforce issues, including stagnant wages and a slow economic recovery, manufacturing, higher education costs, the opioid abuse epidemic, health care, retirement security and trade. The task force will seek to find solutions that help address each of these challenges.

“For generations, the American dream has meant that every American who works hard can find success. But in recent years, frozen paychecks, a tough job market and rising living costs make the American Dream too often seem out of reach,” Messer said. “During the 2016 election, Republicans promised a renewed focus on addressing these challenges and improving the lives of everyday working people. This task force is about making those promises a reality.”

The task force’s first hearing will be held Tuesday, April 25, with the goal of helping set a policy agenda for the modern American worker. Among those asked to testify is LaPorte Mayor Blair Milo.

Also, this week started a two-week recess for the Senate and House of Representatives, which means most of our delegation is back in the state for the Easter and Passover holidays. Be on the lookout for them in your hometowns!

Recent Happenings in Federal Affairs: Gorsuch Sworn in with Donnelly’s Support

Senator Joe Donnelly joined a select few Democrats last week to announce support for President Trump’s pick to the U.S. Supreme Court: federal appellate judge Neil Gorsuch.

Donnelly stated, “I have said consistently that part of my job is to carefully review, debate and vote on judicial nominations, including nominees to the Supreme Court. It is my obligation as senator to consider the qualifications of each nominee that comes to the Senate floor to determine if he or she can faithfully serve on our nation’s highest court. I take this responsibility very seriously.

“After meeting with Judge Gorsuch, conducting a thorough review of his record and closely following his hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, I believe that he is a qualified jurist who will base his decisions on his understanding of the law and is well-respected among his peers.

“I was deeply disappointed by the way the most recent Supreme Court nominee, judge Merrick Garland, was treated by the Senate, but as senator, I can only vote on the nominee that comes to the Senate floor. However, I believe that we should keep the current 60-vote threshold for Supreme Court nominees.”

Gorsuch was sworn in on Monday.

In other news:

  • Responding to the requests from a bipartisan cohort of Indiana elected officials, newly appointed Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has announced he will visit the U.S. Smelter and Lead Superfund site in East Chicago on April 19. Senators Donnelly and Todd Young, congressman Pete Visclosky (IN-01) and Gov. Eric Holcomb each had invited Pruitt to visit after his appointment to the position. The area has been the focus of concern for local, state and federal officials since the magnitude of the environmental (water) lead contamination became clear.
  • Representative Luke Messer (IN-06) last week called on Congress to come back, instead of breaking early for Easter, to repeal and replace Obamacare. In a floor speech addressing his colleagues in the House, Messer said, “Congress is leaving for Easter break with work undone. For seven years, we’ve told the American people we would repeal Obamacare and replace it with something better, and we have legislation that provides that opportunity. … We need to do what we said we would do.” Earlier, Messer joined members of the House Republican leadership – led by Speaker Paul Ryan – to announce an amendment to the American Health Care Act that safeguards patients with pre-existing conditions in a way that will also lower premiums. This amendment creates the $15 billion new federal risk-sharing program that will help states reduce premiums by reimbursing health insurance issuers for high-cost individuals beginning in 2018. The proposal by congressmen Gary Palmer of Alabama and David Schweikert of Arizona is modeled after a program in Maine.
  • Congressman Jim Banks (IN-03) has introduced the Head Start Improvement Act, a bill to reform the Head Start early childhood education program. The legislation would give states increased flexibility in spending the Head Start dollars they receive from the federal government to better meet the specific needs of low-income children. The bill would provide Head Start block grants directly to eligible grantees, which include states, territories and federally-recognized Indian tribes. He got the idea from state Sen. Luke Kenley (R-Noblesville), who has suggested this as part of the larger pre-K pilot program at the state level. “As a father of three young girls, I understand the importance of making sure our kids receive the best education possible,” said Banks. “Unfortunately, Head Start is failing to make a significant contribution to student development, and it is clear that Head Start needs a new start. Giving states, local officials and parents greater control over the Head Start program will result in better tailored pre-K programs for Hoosier students.”

Federal Report: Keystone XL Pipeline Moves Forward and Other Notes from D.C.

Finally! The long-sought approval for the Keystone XL oil pipeline is in sight. For years, the Indiana Chamber has advocated for the pipeline, which would ship crude from Canada’s western oil sands region to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

This action by the Trump administration reverses one of former President Obama’s most politically charged environmental decisions that came more than a year ago, when construction of the 1,200-mile pipeline was blocked.

In other news:

  • Congresswoman Jackie Walorski (IN-02) helped kick off a small business workshop in South Bend. More than 275 local small business owners attended the Boost Your Business event hosted by Facebook, the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) and the South Bend Regional Chamber of Commerce. She also participated in a Facebook Live discussion about women in small business with Tanya Allen of NAWBO. Check out the video!
  • The U.S. Chamber of Commerce honored 266 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and 55 members of the U.S. Senate with its annual Spirit of Enterprise Award, given in recognition of their support for pro-growth policies in the second session of the 114th Congress. All Republican members of the Indiana delegation and U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly were given this prestigious honor. The award is based on votes given on critical business legislation as outlined in the U.S. Chamber’s scorecard, How They Voted. Congressional members who supported the organization’s position on at least 70% of those votes qualify. This go-round, the U.S. Chamber scored members on eight Senate votes and 14 House votes related to access to capital for small businesses, ensuring our workforce has the skills necessary for the jobs of tomorrow and helping American manufacturers compete in a global economy. In addition, votes in support of building the U.S. water infrastructure system, protecting intellectual property and updating energy policy also factored into scoring.
  • Last week, Congresswoman Susan Brooks (IN-05) voiced concern about a rising drug issue before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee. The focus was on combatting the next wave of the opioid crisis: fentanyl. That drug is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine, and has contributed to more than 5,000 overdose deaths in the U.S. since 2013. This hearing builds on the work from last Congress to combat this crisis. Watch Rep. Brooks’ remarks delivered during the hearing.
  • The Republican-led U.S. Senate voted last Wednesday to block an Obama-era rule that critics said would have led to more citations for workplace safety record-keeping violations. Senators voted 50-48 to block the Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule. The House had voted to do so previously. Employers are required to maintain a log of workplace injuries and illnesses that occur during a five-year span, but an employer may only be cited for failing to keep proper health and safety records within a six-month window. Critics said the Obama administration was trying to extend the penalty window to five years, describing the rule as “an unlawful power grab.” But labor groups, including the AFL-CIO, said the six-month restriction makes it impossible to enforce the record-keeping requirements since the federal government doesn’t conduct regulator inspections of even the most hazardous workplaces and won’t likely find a violation before the window has expired. The labor union said the Obama administration’s rule created no new obligations, but simply made clear that employers have a responsibility to maintain accurate injury and illness records for five years and during this time can be held accountable for violations if the records are inaccurate. The sponsor of the legislation, Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Alabama, applauded the Senate vote, saying “we should be focused on proactive policies that help improve workplace safety instead of punitive rules that do nothing to make American workers safer.” The legislation goes to President Donald Trump for his signature.
  • Representative Trey Hollingsworth (IN-09), along with Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (AZ-09), introduced the Fostering Innovation Act last week. This bipartisan legislation slashes burdensome regulations that hinder companies that operate on the very edge of scientific and medical breakthroughs. “Indiana is leading the way in medical device and biotech innovation,” said Rep. Hollingsworth. “This bipartisan, commonsense reduction of burdensome regulations will empower many industries throughout the Hoosier state to devote more resources to product innovation, research and development.” At this time, emerging growth companies (ECGs) are exempt from certain regulatory requirements for five years after their initial public offering. One of the requirements EGCs are exempt from is Sarbanes-Oxley Section 404(b) which requires public companies to obtain an external audit on the effectiveness of their internal controls for financial reporting.