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.

BizVoice Earns SPJ Honors

Congrats to our communications team /BizVoice writers who earned three honors at the Indiana Society of Professional Journalists Awards Friday – a second place and two third place finishes:

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.

Commentary: How NOT to Make America Great Again

Dan Berglund, president of the State Science & Technology Institute, offers this analysis of the budget proposal offered by the Trump administration:

The Trump Administration’s skinny budget proposal calls itself, “A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again.” From the information contained in the document, it is clear the Administration does not view science, technology, innovation and entrepreneurship and the economic development efforts built around those activities as the path forward to making “America great again.” The program eliminations and drastic cuts are not the way to move the country forward economically. So what is behind this proposal? Two things: 1) a fight over the proper role of the federal government in the economy, and 2) a negotiating tactic to attempt to lull advocates into thinking program survival or lesser cuts are a victory. A full community response is needed and all of us must get off the sidelines and on to the playing field.

The budget blueprint proposes drastic cuts for research at NIH, DOE’s Office of Science, NOAA and EPA and would eliminate a score of federal programs that serve as the cornerstone of federal activity in supporting an innovation economy, including the Economic Development Administration, the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, ARPA- E, the Appalachian Regional Commission, SBA’s Regional Innovation Clusters program and CDFI Fund, among others. (The National Science Foundation is not mentioned in the proposal, so details on how much the Administration will propose it be cut will not be available until the full budget is released in April or May. Similarly, the Regional Innovation Strategies program is not mentioned specifically in the budget proposal.) All of these proposals are against the aims of SSTI’s policy platform for federal support of innovation economies.

Motivations behind the budget proposal
There appear to be two primary motivations behind the budget proposal: 1) a fight once again over the role of the federal government in the economy, and 2) a negotiating tactic to attempt to lull advocates into thinking program survival or lesser cuts are a victory.
Throughout the 62-page document there are recycled ideological talking points to justify program elimination. Many comments contained in the document indicate a fundamental lack of understanding of the programs they propose to eliminate or the belief that the federal government has no role in economic development, including:

  • EDA has “limited measurable impacts and duplicates other Federal programs”
  • MEP centers would “transition solely to non-Federal revenue sources, as was originally intended when the program was established”
  • Some SBA programs including Regional Innovation Clusters are targeted because “the private sector provides effective mechanisms to foster local business development and investment”
  • ARPA-E should be eliminated because “the private sector is better positioned to finance disruptive energy research and development and to commercialize innovative technologies”

Never mind that numerous reports have been done about EDA’s economic impact, that Congress reauthorized the MEP program just last year with a funding structure that includes federal funding and without federal funding the remaining centers would drop their focus on small and medium-sized manufacturers, and that the private sector alone does not provide effective mechanisms to encourage economic development or disruptive energy R&D.

Beyond a clear ideological view that the federal government has no role in promoting economic growth — a position rejected since at least the early 1800s when the federal government funded canals and other key infrastructure items, it is hard to view this proposal as anything more than a negotiating tactic. As anyone who has bought a house or bargained for an item at a flea market knows, you start with a low ball offer knowing that you’ll settle higher and that both you and the seller will ultimately be happy with the final price.

But this budget is not a real estate negotiation and settling for reduced cuts and declaring victory should not be an option for any of us.

A concluding thought
There is broad popular support for an economic growth agenda focused on innovation, science, technology, and entrepreneurship. We regret the Administration’s initial proposal would send this country in a different direction. We look forward to doing our part and working with others to make our case to Congress.

Compton Offers Presidential Perspective at Legislative Dinner

Flanked by Gov. Eric Holcomb and Indiana Chamber President Kevin Brinegar, Ann Compton regaled Legislative Dinner attendees with her stories about past presidents, and her opinions of President Trump and the media today.

With more than 40 years of experience covering the administrations of seven presidents, former ABC News White House correspondent Ann Compton had plenty to share Tuesday night at the Indiana Chamber’s 2017 Legislative Dinner.

A few of her reflections and projections:

On the media: “In this digital age, my business, the news industry, is almost unrecognizable to me. It wounds me to hear that the free, American press is the enemy. We in the mainstream press have to work responsibly and openly to earn back your trust.”

On prior presidents and the media: George H.W. Bush originated the hat with the saying, “Annoy the Media: Re-Elect Bush” (Compton still has hers); Barack Obama “lashed out at the press” in a private, off-the-record session when he was not happy with the tone of the reporting.

On fake news sites: “They are more like criminal enterprises.”

On the ultimate test for presidents: “They are measured by the crises they face.” Compton listed several, including the younger President Bush and 9/11, sharing personal anecdotes about that day as a result of her being the only broadcast journalist on Air Force One after the attacks.

On Donald Trump: “This man is remarkably consistent (in style), but not necessarily on policy.” Noting that 30 years ago he didn’t carry a briefcase or schedule too many meetings, saying, ‘You can’t be imaginative or entrepreneurial if you’ve got too much structure.’ We’re seeing that applied today.

On looking forward: Despite her concerns, she says, “I really do believe the republic is strong, our country is strong.”

View event photos.

The Legislative Dinner, with more than 700 attendees at the Indiana Roof Ballroom, was presented by Ice Miller, with Lifeline Data Centers sponsoring the opening reception. Gold sponsors: Eli Lilly and Company, NIPSCO and St. Vincent. Silver sponsors: Alcoa; American Chemistry Council; AT&T Indiana; Delta Dental of Indiana; French Lick Resort; Hoosiers Work for Health; Indiana Career Hub; IGT Indiana; Ivy Tech Community College; The Kroger Co.; Majestic Star Casino & Hotel; Old National Bank; Roche Diagnostics Corporation; Smithville; and Vectren.

The 2018 Legislative Dinner will take place February 13.

Compton Shines at 2017 Legislative Dinner

Ann Compton, a 40-year veteran of ABC News and the White House press corps, relayed her experiences and thoughts on President Trump and the media at the 2017 Indiana Chamber Legislative Dinner last night at the Indiana Roof Ballroom in Indianapolis.

In addition to her many amusing anecdotes about past presidents and thoughts on President Trump, she also relived the tragic day of September 11, 2001. She was traveling with President George W. Bush on Air Force One as all involved struggled to grasp the magnitude of what had happened.

We were also grateful to be joined by Gov. Eric Holcomb, who offered thoughtful and humorous remarks following his first few months on the job. See photos of the evening below:

Chamber Submits List of Federal Rules That Need Repeal to VP-Elect Pence

The Indiana Chamber is championing the repeal of “the most egregious rules, regulations and executive orders that occurred in recent years.” These targets for the Trump administration were submitted to Vice President-elect Mike Pence this week, just ahead of the inauguration.

The list, per Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar, contains “issues we have repeatedly heard about from our member companies because they hinder their ability to prosper and provide more jobs for Hoosiers.”

These issues include increased EPA air quality standards leading to much higher energy bills with minimal environmental impact, the overtime rule that would jeopardize jobs and business growth, costly rules related to Obamacare, misguided workplace safety regulations and a fear that the FCC’s net neutrality position could stifle innovation.

“It was all too common for President Obama to circumvent Congress by issuing executive orders and to encourage federal agencies to overreach their authority and diminish economic growth,” Brinegar says.

“The Indiana Chamber is very hopeful this troubling pattern will change under President-elect Donald Trump, and we have encouraged his administration to take action to undo many of the detrimental measures enacted in this manner and to get our economy moving again.”

The 17 suggestions for repeal and their impacts are available at www.indianachamber.com/federal.

The Indiana Chamber also made the state’s congressional delegation aware of these priorities.

How Will the 2016 Elections Impact Labor and Employment Policy?

UWe’re all still recalibrating after last Tuesday’s election results. While the citizenry ponders what this means for the country and the issues dear to us, the impact on labor and employment policy is a top consideration for business-focused organizations like ours.

Harold P. Coxson of the law firm Ogletree Deakins articulated some thoughts in a blog post just after election night:

What do last night’s election results mean for labor and employment policy? In the first place, it means that Republicans will control the White House and both the House and Senate.

For another, it means that President-elect Trump will select the candidate for the current vacancy on the Supreme Court of the United States, as well as seats on the 12 federal circuit courts, only four of which remain under the control of judges appointed by Republican presidents.

It also means that President-elect Trump will fill the two vacancies on the National Labor Relations Board with two Republicans, thus switching majority control of the agency on his first days in office. The NLRB’s record of historic reversals of long-established labor law precedent in areas such as joint-employment, independent contractors, waivers of class and collective actions in arbitration agreements, “ambush” union elections and micro bargaining units will, over time, be reversed.

It means the appointment of other key policy positions throughout the federal labor agencies, including the Secretary of Labor, Solicitor of the U.S. Department of Labor, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, and Administrator of the Wage and Hour Division. They, in turn, will be expected to roll back or recall many of the controversial labor and employment regulations, such as the recently issued Part 541 overtime regulation, the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces (government contractor “blacklisting”) executive order and implementing regulations, and the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act’s revised “persuader activity” regulations.

The election results also represent an opportunity for Congress to promulgate regulations and pass legislation that would represent responsible immigration policy on a path to earned legalization of undocumented workers and that would repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).

As a result of last night’s elections, the Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will likely remain with Sen. Alexander (R-TN) rather than Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). The House Education and the Workforce Committee will be chaired by Rep. Virginia Fox (R- NC) with Rep. Bobby Scott (D- VA) likely to remain as Ranking Democrat.

Whether the election results will bring about greater bipartisanship and less political acrimony and gridlock remains to be seen. However, with Republicans controlling the White House and Congress, those angry voters who complained that “nothing ever gets done in Washington” will expect better.

Trump Tax Plan 2.0

19145168Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump recently announced revisions to his tax plan. And it has already been broken down and analyzed by the Tax Foundation. Individuals would be subject to just three possible rates: 12% for up to $37,500 in income; 15% for up to $112,500; and, 33% for over $112,500 (all double for married couples.) The top capital gains rate would be 20%. It would also increase the standard deduction to $15,000 (currently at $6,300.) Carried interest would be taxed as ordinary income. And there are other changes including a new childcare cost deduction.

As for business taxes, the plan reduces the corporate rate from 35% to 15%. It has a lesser rate of 10% for repatriated foreign profits. But on the negative side for manufacturers, it takes away the Section 199 domestic production activities deduction. The research credit is left intact. Unfortunately, it is not clear that the reduced corporate 15% rate will be applicable to business pass-through income (stay tuned on that.)

The estate and gift tax would be eliminated. However, the inheritors would eventually have to pay on the full gain realized when they sell the asset, without the benefit of a stepped-up basis.

What about the impact on revenues and our federal debt? Well, the new plan is better in that regard than the original. The static evaluation is that it will reduce revenues (increase the debt) somewhere between $4.4 trillion and $5.9 trillion (depending on the unspecified details) over 10 years; that is roughly half of the estimate of the plan he first outlined. The dynamic analysis, factoring in economic growth improvement associated with tax cuts, lessen the overall impact, but those numbers are inherently more speculative.

See the complete analysis and full breakdown from the Tax Foundation.