Good Progress Being Made on Chamber’s ‘Repeal’ List

At the start of 2017, the Indiana Chamber sought input from its members on the federal rules, regulations and executive orders that were affecting the bottom line for Hoosier businesses and hampering expansion and job growth. These onerous policies, for the most part, circumvented Congress and amounted to attacks on business, industry and, ultimately, the workforce.

The finalized list was submitted to Vice President Mike Pence and the Indiana congressional delegation in late January. We are pleased to report that much progress has been made on many of the items and encourage you to review the updated document.

White House

House and Senate Get Started on Tax Reform; Where Does Donnelly Stand?

Late last week, the House Ways and Means Committee concluded its markup of the GOP tax reform bill (the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act) and voted along party lines to move the measure, 24-16. The core of the House bill reduces the number of individual tax rates, slashes the corporate tax rate and eliminates many deductions and credits.

The bill now will be taken up by the full House of Representatives for debate and vote – likely before the Thanksgiving recess. What are some sensitive issues being discussed in the tax reform bill? Pass-throughs, adoption tax credits, deductibility of state and local taxes (SALT), excise tax and more.

The GOP can only lose 22 votes in the House and whip counts are being held very close to the vest – only five or six Republicans have publicly stated that they are against the bill in the current form (all due to SALT).

Meanwhile, the Senate decided on Thursday to release its own tax reform plan. From the business perspective, the differences largely are about adjusting the dollar dials and creating negotiation items. In other words, politics. The Senate option does delay some positive economic effects, but if that’s what it takes to get a permanent tax reduction in the books so be it! We do want to point out that there are some notable differences between the two versions, particularly on the individual side – including with the estate tax and mortgage deduction, which, again, serve to set up further negotiations.

Senator Todd Young welcomed the effort from the Senate Finance Committee.

“I’m encouraged by the Senate’s proposal to create a tax code that is simpler, fairer and allows hardworking Hoosiers to keep more of what they earn. I’m also glad that this proposal maintains the adoption tax credit that is important to so many Indiana families. As we continue to debate a final tax relief package, I will keep working to ensure Hoosier voices are heard.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Joe Donnelly, didn’t give away his stance: “As I have said, tax reform should create jobs, protect jobs, invest in American workers and benefit middle class families. I will carefully review the Senate proposal and continue to engage with my colleagues and the White House on behalf of Hoosiers as the Senate works on tax reform.”

Donnelly also met on Thursday with the White House Director of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn to discuss his tax reform priorities. Earlier last week, Donnelly participated in another such meeting with White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short and Cohn. President Donald Trump called in for a portion of the event. In that meeting, Donnelly discussed his tax reform priorities and shared a letter that he also sent to Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday emphasizing that the tax policies should align with the interests of American workers and support companies that invest in the U.S.

Donnelly’s priorities are consistent with his End Outsourcing Act, which would support companies that invest in American workers and penalize companies that ship American jobs to foreign countries.

The Hill reported late last week that “Blue Dog Democrats are lining up in firm opposition to the Republicans’ tax code overhaul, hoping that Tuesday’s election results (particularly in Virginia) will force GOP leaders to reach across the aisle for a bipartisan alternative.”

Donnelly, a Blue Dog Democrat, has not said anything of the kind publicly and has been heavily courted by the Trump administration for his vote.

Federal Tax Plan = Meaningful Cuts More Than Comprehensive Reform

The “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” (H.R. 1) has finally arrived! The long-awaited details – over 400 pages worth – are now out there for all to debate. This is a debate that will play out before the House Republican Ways and Means Committee this week. Much of the public discourse will focus on how it impacts individuals, but for the business community it is the taxation of businesses, large and small, that is of the most significance.

The plan includes a reduction of the corporate rate from 35% to 20%, an important and meaningful step. It also caps the taxation of income derived from pass-throughs (S corporations, LLCs, partnerships and sole proprietorships) at 25%. Key provisions are outlined below. And if you are truly into tax law, the full bill is also available, as is a section-by-section summary.

Now you may note that this legislation is labeled a tax cut, not tax reform. And while many will call it that, it is probably better characterized as a tax cut bill. Cuts are good, and these measures will certainly be the impetus for some level of economic growth. But the trillion dollar questions remain: How much will it spur in gross domestic product (GDP) growth? And, can that realistically be enough to offset the projected reductions in tax collections?

Nobody can really know the answers to these politically-charged questions. But as you read the “scoring” of this legislation (to be published by the Congressional Budget Office after passage out of the House Ways and Means Committee), you may consider these items for context: the GDP growth rate in the United States averaged 3.22% from 1947 until 2017; GDP has pleasantly surprised people by breaking the 3% mark the last couple quarters; and the GDP will probably need to go a good bit higher to prevent the bill from adding substantially to the already staggering federal deficit. So listen for what growth rates are assumed in the projections that will be discussed and debated – and draw your own conclusions.

Key provisions affecting businesses

  • Reduces the corporate tax rate: The rate will drop to 20% from the current 35% and is designed to be permanent.
  • Establishes a repatriation tax rate: The repatriation rate on overseas assets for U.S. companies would be as high as 12%. The bill also may include a mandatory repatriation of all foreign assets. Illiquid assets would be taxed at a lower rate, spread out over a longer period than liquid assets like cash.
  • Creates a 25% rate for pass-through businesses: Instead of getting taxed at an individual rate for business profits, people who own their own business would pay at the so-called pass-through rate. (There will be some guardrails on what kinds of businesses can claim this rate to avoid individuals abusing the lower tax.)

Key provisions affecting individuals

  • Creates new individual income brackets:
    • 12% for income up to $45,000 for individuals and $90,000 for a married couple
    • 25% up to $200,000 individual/$260,000 couples
    • 35% up to $500,000 individual/$1 million couples
    • 6% over $500,000 individual/$1million couples
  • Caps state and local property tax deduction at $10,000, but does NOT cap income or sales tax deductions.
  • Eliminates the estate tax: The threshold for the tax, which applies only to estates with greater than $5.6 million in assets during 2018, would double to over $10 million; the plan then phases out the tax after six years.
  • Does NOT change taxation of 401(k) plans.
  • Increases the child tax credit to $1,600 from $1,000. The bill would also add a credit of $300 for each non-child dependent or parent for five years, after which that provision would expire.
  • Limits home mortgage interest deduction: On new-home purchases, interest on loans up to $500,000 would be deductible. (The current limit is $1 million.)
  • Nearly doubles the standard deduction: To avoid raising taxes on those currently in the 10% tax bracket, the standard deduction for all taxes would increase to $12,000 for individuals (up from $6,350) and $24,000 for married couples (up from $12,700).
  • Eliminates most personal itemized deductions and many credits. The only deductions preserved explicitly in the plan are for charitable gifts and edited home-mortgage interest.
  • Repeals the alternative minimum tax (AMT). The tax, which forces people who qualify because of an outsized number of deductions, would be eliminated under the legislation.

Full policy highlights of the bill can be found here.

Keep in mind this is the House’s plan and it will be subject to a different form of scrutiny in the Senate. So regardless all the prior coordination among those working together on this effort for months, some (perhaps many) things will change – they always do!

As for the timeline, it’s hard to say. But we do know that the House Ways and Means Committee will begin hearing amendments this week, and the process could take several days. A vote on the bill by the full House, as it is passed out of Ways and Means, is anticipated to come as early as November 13. From there it goes to the Senate Finance Committee, then full Senate. Optimists hope for something to pass before the end of the year. However, don’t be surprised if the debate isn’t carried over into the beginning of 2018.

Indiana’s delegation members are also weighing in with their views on the new tax bill. Chief among them is Congresswoman Jackie Walorski (IN-02), a member of the pivotal House Ways and Means Committee: “Hoosiers deserve every opportunity to achieve success and live the American Dream, and that’s what tax reform is all about. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will help American businesses expand, invest and hire more workers, and it will let middle-class families keep more of the money they earn. It’s time to fix our broken tax code and level the playing field for hardworking Americans by once again making America the best place in the world to do business.”

Resource: Bill Waltz at (317) 264-6887 or email: bwaltz@indianachamber.com 

Donnelly Co-Sponsor of Chamber Policy Priority – Delaying Health Insurance Tax

Great news on a long-term policy priority for the Indiana Chamber! A bill has been introduced to delay the implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s Health Insurance Tax (HIT) until 2020 and to make the fees tax-deductible. As things currently stand, the tax would come into effect in early 2018 and bring with it increased health care costs.

Joe Donnelly

Senator Joe Donnelly is one of two co-sponsors of the measure from Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND).

The Indiana Chamber opposes HIT because of its impact on the small business community. HIT rests entirely on the insured marketplace, so that means businesses and their workers will feel the brunt. Higher premiums for consumers, including small and family-owned businesses – no thanks! And to make matters worse, the tax does not sunset but increases through 2024 and is adjusted for premium growth.

A recent report funded by UnitedHealth Group says that HIT would “increase 2018 health care costs by $158 per person on the individual market, and by $245 for Medicare Advantage participants.”

The HIT has been a bipartisan bone of contention for years, with a previous one-year delay in implementation already having passed Congress.

The Heitkamp-Donnelly bill, S. 1978, now will be reviewed by the Senate Finance Committee.

The Indiana Chamber will continue to voice its approval for this measure to our delegation members.

Senate Health Care Reform – Act III

A bipartisan agreement has been reached in the Senate to help stabilize health care markets – from Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and ranking member Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA).

Among other things, the Alexander-Murray agreement would:

  • fund cost-sharing reduction payments, which help lower consumers’ deductibles and co-pays, for two years;
  • broaden the pool eligible for a “copper plan” (catastrophic medical) coverage option, which would help reduce the mandate implications for essential benefits;
  • include funding to help Americans navigate signing up for health insurance, which had been cut by the Trump administration; and
  • set up high-risk pools that will allow for continued coverage for these individuals.

What this is not is a “repeal and replace”. That said, the two-year funding promise is good news for insurers and would help alleviate their unease, which would also be felt by consumers. But this bill does nothing to address the core problems in the individual marketplace that threaten its sustainability.

Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly, who has been pushing for bipartisan fixes to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), has thrown his support behind the Alexander-Murray agreement and is a co-sponsor of the legislation. He stated, “This is the product of hard work from members on both sides of the aisle, and it’s an important step in providing much needed stability to the market. I’m proud to be part of the effort, and I will continue working with Republicans and Democrats to move this much-needed legislation forward.”

President Trump has alternately met the agreement with both optimism and skepticism. Overall, he’s indicated that he would favor a short-term subsidy fix; however, he doesn’t want to help insurers either.

It would appear the bipartisan legislation would garner most, if not all, Senate Democrat votes (as Minority Leader Chuck Schumer alluded to on Thursday), so that would leave a lot of wiggle room for passage if some, or even many, Republicans vote against it. The question is what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will do and what he says to his caucus.

Meanwhile, Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the authors of the Senate’s second ACA reform attempt, have been working with Alexander and Murray on ways the bill can be made palatable to the very conservative arm of the congressional Republicans – most notably in the House.

In other words, this is far from a done deal.

Playing the Federal Numbers Game

government employeeQuestion: Exactly how many people work for the federal government? Answer: It depends.

A new study titled “The True Size of Government” puts the number at somewhere between seven and nine million. Here’s the breakdown:

  • 2 million employees
  • 3.7 million contractors
  • 1.6 million grant employees
  • 1.3 million active duty military
  • 500,000 Postal Service

Military members are not always included in such calculations. Same with the Postal Service, which does not receive congressional appropriations. The grantee and contract numbers are estimates from the Bureau of Economic Analysis

Study author Paul C. Light of New York University says an important takeaway is “the study reminds us that the nation depends on a very large blended workforce that includes many more contract and grant employees than federal civil servants. It is easy to say the civil service is too big, but it is only part of the workforce needed to faithfully execute the laws.

“The question is not whether we have too many government employees, but do we have the right blend to deliver the mission at the best price, value and performance. … This means we should be counting all the heads when we get into debates about cutting performances.”

That blended workforce actually dropped from 11.3 million to 9.1 million between 2010 and 2015, according to a separate study published by the Volcker Alliance.

Light doesn’t question the value of contract and grant workers. He does note that while cost savings are often cited for their increasing use, that is not always the case when “indirect costs such as supplies, equipment, materials and other costs of doing business enter the equation. Add overhead to the total and contract employees can cost twice as much as federal employees.”

Tax Reform the Talk of Fly-in

More than 100 of the state’s top business leaders descended on D.C. this week for the Indiana Chamber’s Fly-in event with our congressional delegation.

Attendees received meaningful and timely information from their representatives and senators through policy briefings, special dinner discussions and office visits.

Tax reform was the hot topic. How ironic that while we were D.C.-bound that President Donald Trump would be heading to Indianapolis to roll out his tax reform plan for the first time, and taking nearly half of the Indiana delegation with him on Air Force One for the announcement. But almost all Hoosier delegation members made it back in time to address their business constituents.

The tax reform message the Indiana Chamber contingent delivered to lawmakers in D.C. was that failure should not be an option – this needs to get done!

Senator Rob Portman of Ohio wraps up his remarks on tax reform – turning the floor over to Sen. Todd Young and Sen. Joe Donnelly for a Q&A session.

What caught our attention was how deeply committed everyone is to have tax reform cross the finish line. We felt that from our guest speaker, Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, considered the Senate fiscal expert, to Indiana members in the House and Senate, including Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly.

They know it’s important not only to them politically but they also realize that it’s much needed policy.

President Trump’s tax reform framework, which assuredly was done in tandem with congressional leaders, includes actions that the Indiana Chamber and business community at-large have been championing for some time:

• Lowering the corporate tax rate from 35% – the highest in the world today, which drives investment, jobs and even corporate headquarters overseas
• Lowering the top personal income tax rate – which now offers disincentives for initiative, investment and risk-taking while reducing the number of brackets
• Eliminating the alternative minimum tax (AMT), which is overly complex and ineffective, and the estate tax, which endangers many family farms and small businesses
• Adopting a territorial system in which income earned overseas is not taxed in the U.S.

In our Q&A with Sens. Donnelly and Todd Young, they were asked to handicap the likelihood – on a one to 10 scale – of a meaningful tax reform package making it through Congress. Donnelly gave it a fairly hopeful six, while Young said he’s more confident today than even a few months ago and now puts the chances for success at seven-plus.

Young added: “At a time when the rate of business creation is lower than at any period in my own life, I feel like the time is now for tax reform. And the President made a compelling case in what I thought were pretty accessible terms (for Americans).”

Donnelly summed up his thoughts on the matter: “My view on tax reform is simple: I want to try to get to ‘yes’. I think it’s much better if it’s bipartisan. … I think it’s a much better message to the country.”

At our legislative briefing, Congressman Larry Bucshon (IN-08) offered his assessment as well. “As long as both sides don’t go to our corners and stick with our traditional talking points – trying to win an election in 2018 – we are going to get this done.”

Tax reform, if done correctly, would broaden the base while lowering rates across the board – spurring new investment, job creation, economic growth and, ultimately, tax revenues, without increasing the federal deficit.

Our tax code should look like it was designed on purpose for strategic economic growth.
We are hopeful that’s what will happen in the coming months.

A big thank you to our D.C. Fly-in sponsors for making the event possible: Zimmer Biomet (dinner sponsor), Allegion (cocktail reception sponsor), Build Indiana Council (legislative briefing sponsor), AT&T, The Boeing Company, Duke Energy, The Kroger Co., Old National Bank and Wabash Valley Power.

We hope to see everyone who attended – and more – back next year!

Senators Discuss Tax Reform, Trip to Indy During D.C. Fly-in

While the irony of timing isn’t lost on anyone, the Indiana Chamber’s annual D.C. Fly-in delegation was in Washington D.C. yesterday while President Trump and several Indiana congressional representatives were in Indianapolis as the President revealed his tax reform plan.

It was an important moment for Indiana to be in the national spotlight as the much-anticipated tax reform plan was revealed. Read Indiana Chamber President Kevin Brinegar’s statement on the reform plan here.

And though some of Indiana’s federal lawmakers were in Indianapolis, both of Indiana’s senators were able to return in time to attend the D.C. Fly-in dinner and address over 100 Hoosier business leaders about their trip with the President.

Senators Joe Donnelly and Todd Young  discussed the potential for bipartisan agreement on tax reform (and a “sweet” treat Donnelly brought with him from Air Force One):

Additionally, one of the Senate’s leading tax experts, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), shared his perspective at the D.C. Fly-in dinner. Here are a few of his comments to the group, on the “positive list” of reforms included in the President’s tax plan:

We’ve been keeping you updated on social media (find us on Twitter at @IndianaChamber or follow #ICCinDC, and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/indianachamber/).

Thank you to all our event guests and sponsors for the 2017 D.C. Fly-in, including Build Indiana Council, Legislative Briefing sponsor; Allegion, cocktail reception sponsor; and Zimmer Biomet, dinner sponsor.

100+ Business Leaders Going to D.C. This Week for Chamber Fly-in

A record group of more than 100 of the state’s top business leaders and government affairs executives will be attending the Indiana Chamber’s annual D.C. Fly-in on September 27 and 28. The timing couldn’t be more perfect with a potential health care reform vote, rollout of a tax reform plan and the end of the fiscal year all taking place.

This year, legislative briefings will be conducted by congressional members, who will be highlighting key public policy areas that line up with their committee assignments and expertise:

  • Tax reform – Indiana 2nd District U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski
  • Regulatory reform – Indiana 9th District U.S. Rep. Trey Hollingsworth
  • Health care reform – Indiana 8th District U.S. Rep. Larry Bucshon
  • Infrastructure and transportation policy – Indiana 4th District U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita
  • Education policy – Indiana 6th District U.S. Rep. Luke Messer

There is still time to register for the D.C. Fly-in; go to www.indianachamber.com/specialevents.

Make sure to follow us on Twitter at @IndianaChamber or #ICCinDC for up-to-the-minute important information on what’s happening in Washington.

Zimmer Biomet is the Fly-in’s dinner sponsor. Allegion is the cocktail reception sponsor. Build Indiana Council is the legislative briefing sponsor.

Event sponsors are AT&T, The Boeing Company, Duke Energy, The Kroger Co., Old National Bank and Wabash Valley Power.

New Senate Health Care Bill An Improvement for Employers

The U.S. Senate appears to be gearing up for another health care vote, with a measure from Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) headed to the floor as soon as the middle of next week.

At its core, the Graham-Cassidy proposal creates a block grant program, taking much of the funding provided in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and sending it to the states for them to set up their own health care systems and determine where to direct the funds.

It also does away with several pillars of the ACA, including the mandate for individuals to have insurance or pay a penalty. The true ramifications of that are uncertain, but could mean higher premiums for those in the health care exchanges (aka those who don’t have insurance through their workplace).

From the standpoint of employers, the Indiana Chamber believes Graham-Cassidy is an improvement over the ACA. This is primarily due to two changes:

  1. The removal of the employer mandate to offer coverage. If that goes away, so too does the ACA’s definition of a full-time employee as someone working an average of 30 hours per week; this has negatively impacted businesses and workers – many of whom saw their hours reduced.
  1. The permanent elimination of the medical device tax, which is detrimental to vital Hoosier employers like Cook Medical in Bloomington, Zimmer Biomet in Warsaw and many others.

Overall, those in favor of increased state control are more receptive to the Graham-Cassidy effort.

As Vice President Mike Pence put it on Fox News yesterday: “…The question that people ought to ask is, who do you think will be more responsive to the health care needs in your community? Your Governor and your state legislator, or a congressman and a President far off in the nation’s capital?…”

 What has opponents worked up is two-fold: affordable coverage for pre-existing conditions isn’t specifically guaranteed; and population size will determine the amount of the block grant, which will reduce funding for a number of states – including some in the Rust Belt and more rural states in general.

Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona told MSNBC on Thursday he has absolute faith that governors will keep pre-existing condition protections, because of the severe political cost if they don’t. Opponents are less convinced.

At this point, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is the lone Republican who has sworn opposition to the Graham-Cassidy bill publicly – in part because his state appears to be set to lose funds in this model.

Likewise, Indiana is expected to see less federal dollars, but the Hoosier state has been preparing for what it saw as an eventuality for several years – setting aside hundreds of millions of dollars to subsidize its Healthy Indiana Plan (HIP) 2.0.

The HIP model is unique in the country; it requires participants to have “skin in the game” with their health care decisions and allows for capping the number of participants. Both of these make it an inherently more nimble program. And ultimately, the state Legislature can also determine to put more funds into HIP 2.0, if it’s deemed necessary.

These facts and the lure of more state control were likely factors in Gov. Eric Holcomb’s decision to sign a letter supporting Graham-Cassidy; he was one of 15 state executives to do so. The reality is other states may not be as fiscally prepared for a possible funding reduction as Indiana is.

That leads us to who may end up being the pivotal figure in the floor vote: Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. She joined Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) and Sen. John McCain (Arizona) in voting no on the last health care reform measure. Collins is seen as a likely “no” again, joining Paul, while McCain is a predicted (or at least hoped for) “yes.”

As a result, the bill authors are pulling out all the stops and making special accommodations for Alaska in the bill to woo Murkowski’s vote – because they can’t lose her and have the bill survive for Vice President Pence to break the tie. If no specific provisions for Alaska are made, the state would be a big loser in the bill in funding because of its size vs. population and geography.

The Indiana Chamber plans to talk about health care reform with Sen. Joe Donnelly, who has announced his opposition to Graham-Cassidy, and Republican Sen. Todd Young during Wednesday’s D.C. Fly-in event.

UPDATE: This afternoon, McCain announced he would oppose the Graham-Cassidy bill, making passage of the bill seemingly very difficult.