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

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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.

What to Expect From Congress in an Election Year

The answer to the query in the headline is “not much,” but that is considered a vast improvement over recent years. Here is the analysis from Bo Harmon, vice president of political affairs for BIPAC.

There are a number of legislative items that members of both parties acknowledge need to be addressed. Implementation of Obamacare. Immigration reform. Tax code and entitlement reform. A long term solution to the debt ceiling crisis. Privacy security. Patent reform. Trade.

With all of these issues, the public increasingly frustrated with gridlock in Washington, and an election coming up where Congress will want to be able to talk about their accomplishments, we should expect to see some major legislative action in 2014, right? Wrong. Well, mostly wrong. There is actually a glimmer of hope that 2014 will produce more than 2013. Though, that’s a bit like saying “we scored zero points last game and expect to do better than that this time.”

The reason that Congress hasn’t accomplished much since 2010 is the same reason we don’t expect to see much more in 2014. With the House in the hands of Republicans and the Senate and White House controlled by Democrats, and each side increasingly responsive to the most ideological polarizing parts of their base, they disagree on how to proceed. Both sides understand the things that need to be addressed, but there is zero consensus on how to do it.

The Obamacare debate is a prime example. Not a single Republican in either chamber voted for original passage though many key features of the legislation were included in previous GOP health care reform bills. Once Republicans took the House in 2010, GOP leadership took the position that repeal of the legislation in total was the only option and have refused to offer or support tweaks or fixes to problems. The Republicans believe “it’s not possible to ‘fix’ something fundamentally incompatible with our ideology.” Politically, they also believe if the legislation fails they will benefit and thus have little political incentive to improve the law. From their perspective, it is BETTER politically to have as many things go wrong with ObamaCare as possible.

This same standoff occurs on issue after issue – taxes, immigration, entitlement reform, etc. But, it is a new year and in our optimistic resolutions, we see some possibility of federal action on a handful of bills. There was a small bright spot in December when a two-year budget compromise passed that would avoid the possibility of a shutdown and eliminated some of the most irrational sequester cuts. This rare bipartisan effort was criticized by many however as small ball for not addressing bigger, long term issues. Even still, it was the best that could be achieved in the current gridlock environment.

The environment is also different than it was in 2013. At that time, Democrats were emboldened by the President’s popularity and felt little need to compromise, believing they had received a mandate from the 2012 elections to do as they wanted. With the President’s approval ratings significantly lower now, the confidence to act as boldly is similarly evaporating. Conversely, Republicans spent 2013 in fear of retribution from the Tea Party. Now, Boehner in the House and McConnell in the Senate have openly broken ranks with the Tea Party and seem almost eager to act in ways that show consensus.   The budget deal and the changed political environment provide the foundation for some compromise legislation to take place on issues that need to be addressed. Small, incremental changes to a handful of issues is possible, likely driven by the middle. We may see some movement on immigration, trade, patent reform, etc; even if more contentious things like tax reform remain unlikely.

While many would like to see more comprehensive solutions and small, incremental changes to immigration or Obamacare implementation may not be at the top of your industry agenda, we are dealing with a situation where NOTHING has been getting done and we need to make an effort to support and reward even baby steps at basic government functionality. Only then will members of Congress have the political courage to attempt larger, more comprehensive changes and take a look at issues that are at the forefront of your industry agenda. It is a shame that we have reached this point where expectations for our Congressional “leaders” is so low but they have demonstrated over the last three years that nothing else can be expected from divided government driven by ideological extremes.

 

D.C. Fly-in Helping Hoosier Business Leaders Connect with Washington

Policy decisions taking place in Congress have a tremendous impact on Hoosier businesses. That's why Chamber representatives and Indiana business leaders embarked yesterday on the 2013 D.C. Fly-in.

Participants have the opportunity to speak with their representative and senators during a panel discussion, moderated by Gerry Dick of Inside INdiana Business, and at a sit-down dinner. Day two features visits to congressional offices to continue the dialogue. The key agenda items that will be discussed are comprehensive tax and regulatory reform, as well as principled, pragmatic immigration reform.

New this year, the Indiana Chamber is partnering with several local chambers to present a unified voice. We're grateful the Chambers from Carmel, Fort Wayne, Terre Haute, Warsaw (Kosciusko County), Southern Indiana (One Southern), Indianapolis and Evansville have joined us.

"It is important to be able to review vital issues with our congressional leaders. It is also a great opportunity to build relationships with members of Congress and their staff," explains Cam Carter, Indiana Chamber vice president of economic development and federal relations.

The Chamber would like to especially thank our D.C. Fly-in sponsors: Build Indiana Council, Duke Energy, Faegre Baker Daniels and Zimmer, Inc.

Reruns That Are Definitely NOT Must-see

A concise but likely spot-on commentary from Chris Frates of National Journal about the work of Congress.

Lawmakers headed home for the July Fourth recess (Friday) after what was likely the most productive stretch of legislating we'll see this year. The Senate passed historic immigration reform, a sweeping farm bill, and water-resources legislation — all with resounding bipartisan majorities.

That cooperation will almost certainly come to a screeching halt when Senate Democrats come back in July and throw down with Republicans over President Obama's stalled nominees.

Sayonara bipartisanship.

Meanwhile in the House, Republicans leaders still can't seem to do much of significance. The Republican majority couldn't even get a farm bill passed, let alone something as historic as immigration reform. Despite months of work in the Senate, House Republicans won't even have their first meeting on immigration until after the break.

And neither chamber is doing much of anything to prepare for this fall's looming fight over how to increase the country's credit limit.

In other words, Congress is about to begin airing summer reruns. Maybe the fall lineup will bring some fresh programming.