House Off to Fast Tech Start

A brief update on some tech/innovation legislation at the federal level, courtesy of the Chamber Technology Engagement Center.

Women will play an important role in the 21st century workforce. Congress recognized that this week when it passed the INSPIRE Women Act (H.R. 321) to recruit women into STEM fields and encourage their research and work in technology.

With the HALOS Act (H.R. 79), the House removed an important burden to allow for angel investors to support start-ups – a huge growth sector in our economy.

Thanks to the Modernizing Government Travel Act (H.R. 274), government employees will soon be able to travel smarter and more cost effectively, saving taxpayer money thanks to a bill modernizing work travel.

Lastly, with the Support for Rapid Innovation Act of 2017 (H.R. 239), the Department of Homeland Security is now a few steps closer to being able to utilize the best and brightest within agencies and industries to help combat the ever-growing cyber security threats to both government and business.

Around the Horn on Federal Legislative Issues

As part of the Indiana Chamber’s robust federal advocacy program, Caryl Auslander will be working with the Indiana delegation (both in Washington, D.C. and here in Indiana) throughout the year. Look for additional stories and coverage of our federal efforts on your behalf in these reports and through other communications.

Below are some of the top recent Indiana news items:

  • Congressman Trey Hollingsworth spoke on the House floor in support of the REINS Act during his first week on the job; the measure to curb unnecessary government regulation passed the House on Wednesday. Hollingsworth has also been placed on the House Financial Services Committee.
  • A Hoosier connection remains on the House Ways and Means Committee with Rep. Jackie Walorski (IN 2) receiving a nod; Sen. Todd Young was most recently on this important committee.
  • Chairman alert: Rep. Susan Brooks (IN 5) has officially taken the helm of the House Ethics Committee.
  • This week, freshman Rep. Jim Banks (IN 3) presided over the House floor debate of a statement of opposition to the recent U.N. Resolution on Israel; the measure passed the House easily.
  • Newly sworn-in Sen. Young was assigned to four important Senate committees: Foreign Relations; Health, Education, Labor and Pensions; Commerce, Science and Transportation; and Small Business and Entrepreneurship.
  • Retirement is on hold for former Sen. Dan Coats, who was announced as President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for Director of National Intelligence.
  • Indiana’s now senior Sen. Joe Donnelly was awarded the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service; Donnelly is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
  • Senators Donnelly and Young were successful in getting the Government Publishing Office to formally designate Indiana residents as “Hoosiers” (bye-bye “Indianans”) and celebrated with this video announcement.
  • South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg threw his hat into the ring for chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

Sen. Donnelly: “Roads Aren’t Republican or Democrat”

IMG_7721

In a visit with the Indiana Chamber’s Congressional Affairs Policy Committee today, Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Indiana) said he believes a new long-term highway infrastructure bill should be enacted yet this year.

Citing “desperate, crying” infrastructure needs, the senator said two imperatives are to “make sure we (Indiana) get our share” and “make sure we get it funded. We’re talking about  a six-year deal. I’ll take a five-year deal (if need be).”

Indiana is currently receiving 95 cents back on each tax dollar that it sends to Washington. In recent discussions, Donnelly voted no on a proposal that would have included Indiana’s share dropping to between 90 cents and 92 cents on the dollar. The goal, he says, is for no state to be funded at a lower percentage level than in the last long-term deal.

Transportation funding has been dependent on a series of short-term extensions that have not provided the resources needed for states to act with any certainty. Donnelly cited several instances of the damaging impact in Indiana, including the current closure of Interstate 65 near Lafayette due to bridge instability.

“Roads aren’t Republican or Democrat; they’re roads,” he explains. “There’s no way to do this without investment. I’m for seven different ways to fund this thing. Just pick one (or more). I just want to build roads.”

Donnelly also discussed potential changes to the Affordable Care Act (including his support for elimination of the medical device tax), the consequences of Washington legislating through Executive Orders, the debt limit, immigration, Iran, global environmental concerns and more.

Congress is scheduled to resume its work in Washington after Labor Day. Indiana Chamber members will be traveling to Washington on September 16-17 for the annual D.C. Fly-in. You can still register to participate.

D.C. Fly-in with Congressional Delegation Sept. 16-17

7324001Don’t sit on the sidelines when you could be influencing laws and regulations under discussion in Washington. Make an impact by attending the Indiana Chamber’s D.C. Fly-in on September 16-17. (Note: Our hotel room block expires Sunday so book your reservations this week!)

The event offers business and community leaders an opportunity to speak with Indiana’s congressional delegation and key staff members during a roundtable discussion/dinner on September 16. The second day features a panel of national and state issue experts, followed by numerous group visits to congressional offices.

By September, the 2016 presidential campaign will be in full swing with a number of members of Congress running for re-election. Dominant issues in Washington and beyond will include transportation, tax reform, repatriation of overseas funds, Obamacare and immigration.

Cost is $149 per person and group discounts are available. Each attendee is responsible for securing travel arrangements. Discounted hotel rooms are available for Chamber Fly-in guests at The Liaison Capitol Hill. Register online.

(The D.C. Fly-in is sponsored by Zimmer. The breakfast program is sponsored by Faegre Baker Daniels. Additional sponsorship is provided by Duke Energy. Thanks to these fine businesses for their support.)

Highway Trust Fund Has Some Potholes

36601064The Congressional Budget Office asserts the national Highway Trust Fund would need $3 billion in ADDITIONAL revenue to keep funding transportation projects through the end of September. And it would need $8 billion if Congress chose to extend funding authority until the end of 2015. Read more via The Hill.

Obviously, there are serious challenges facing America’s road infrastructure.

Cam Carter, the Indiana Chamber’s vice president of economic development and federal relations, outlines the main problem.

“Congress needs to get its act together and summon the political will to fashion a long-term solution to the insolvency of the highway trust fund,” he asserts. “We’ve had our fill of short-term patches. Some will say that the highway fund is insolvent because today’s vehicles are more fuel efficient and that is depressing revenues going into the fund – and there is some truth to this. But, the greater truth is that Congress hasn’t raised fuel taxes to keep up with inflation since 1993 and that, more than anything, is the root of the problem.”

Only the Elephants Might be Upset; No More Peanut Report

7324001You have to start somewhere when it comes to better utilizing taxpayer resources and getting rid of unnecessary government work. But rest assured, there is a long way to go.

Check out this Government Executive recap of some common sense legislation out of Washington:

The House  put the final touches on a widely embraced bill to eliminate or modify 53 useless or outdated agency reports, an effort backed by the White House as a cost-savings measure.

The vote tally of 382-0 was evidence that the only area of disagreement between Republicans and Democrats in both chambers was precisely which reports to target in subjects ranging from the Agriculture Department’s write-up on the number of peanuts planted each year to the Homeland Security Department’s analysis of illegal imports of products made from dog and cat fur.

Though some studies have tagged nearly 300 reports as possibly superfluous, negotiators worked the number down. In June, the Office of Management and Budget identified 74 dubious reports; a Senate bill named 64; and a House bill passed in April listed 79.

“In today’s challenging fiscal environment, Congress must leverage every opportunity to save taxpayer dollars by streamlining or eliminating antiquated reporting requirements that are duplicative, irrelevant or simply ignored,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., a co-sponsor. “While enacting the bipartisan Government Reports Elimination Act may not go as far as we would like, it nevertheless represents precisely the type of pragmatic, good government legislating that a divided Congress should be doing more of.”

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., who had introduced a companion version, said, “Hundreds of federal employees spend countless hours producing mountains of these reports each year, and in many cases no one ever reads or even refers to those reports. Surely these agency resources could be targeted to smarter, more productive efforts that will actually provide more direct benefit to customers and taxpayers.”

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., a co-author, cast the final bill as just “a first step toward making government smaller and smarter.” She and Warner introduced another bill that would target another 67 reports.

Congress Seeks Short-Term Fix to Highway Trust Fund Dilemma

The U.S. Congress voted last week to provide $10.9 billion to the U.S. Department of Transportation to fund the Highway Trust Fund in order to reimburse states for repairs and infrastructure improvements for roads, rails and airports.

The nearly $11 billion was cobbled together from general fund revenues by any number of budgetary gimmicks not rationally tied to the fuel (gasoline and diesel) excise taxes that normally go into the trust fund (e.g., an extension of customs fees as well as so-called “pension smoothing”).

Few lawmakers in the Indiana delegation (and the entire Congress for that matter) are happy that it is not a longer-term solution; those we spoke with were frustrated by the delay and the funding mechanisms. The Indiana Chamber agrees this is no way to conduct the people’s business, but it is better than the alternative of the highway fund going broke, work stoppages and the idling of hundreds of thousands of construction workers across the country. We will work with the delegation to secure a more rational bill and reauthorization of the multi-year surface transportation bill in coming months.

Indiana Chamber Endorses Four Members of Congress for Re-Election

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce is endorsing four members of the state’s congressional delegation from Central Indiana:

U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN, 4th District);
U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks (R-IN, 5th District);
U.S. Rep. Luke Messer (R-IN, 6th District); and
U.S. Rep. Todd Young (R-IN, 9th District).

“Good public service deserves to be recognized. These members of Congress continue to demonstrate sound fiscal policy and prudent decision-making on issues that are vital to jobs and economic growth,” says Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar.

The Indiana Chamber’s nonpartisan congressional PAC determined the endorsements.

At both the state and federal levels, Indiana Chamber support is driven by vote scores on pro-jobs, pro-economy issues. For state endorsements, the Indiana Chamber relies on its Legislative Vote Analysis report. Congressional support is based on the vote tally conducted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Representatives of the U.S. Chamber, which also is supporting these candidates for re-election, joined the Indiana Chamber in downtown Indianapolis for today’s press conference.

The Indiana Chamber has been the state’s leading business organization for more than 90 years, representing over 800,000 Hoosier workers through nearly 5,000 member companies across Indiana.

Congress Can Do It, But You Can’t

An interesting blurb in a recent Kiplinger newsletter on one of the privileges of congressional service:

Congress can do what employers can’t when it comes to health coverage: use tax-advanced funds to reimburse workers who buy individual health care policies on exchanges. Employers face a tax penalty of $100 a day per worker for violations.

Yet the government gives lawmakers and Capitol Hill staffers tax free contributions to help offset insurance premiums, covering about 72% of exchange-bought insurance. The government allowed the payments because of concerns about higher premiums and the loss of the government subsidy for insurance for both lawmakers and staff.

The IRS restated its view that such subsidies aren’t permitted in the private sector after some vendors told employers that the pretax payments would allow them to meet the mandate to provide insurance. The double standards isn’t likely to change.