Construction Legislative Week in Review
www.agc.orgDecember 24, 2009
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Health Care Passes Senate Hurdle, Still Must Be Merged with House Version
1st Session of 111th Congress Ends, Unfinished Business Remains
Health Care Passes Senate Hurdle, Still Must Be Merged with House Version

In a rare early morning vote today, the Senate passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, 60 to 39, along party lines with all Republicans opposing it (Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) did not vote).  The bill fails to lower premiums, increases federal health care spending, imposes $500 billion in new taxes on health care and small businesses and exacerbates the growing federal deficit.  The bill expands Medicaid and shifts millions in costs to the states, adds regulatory burdens that will add to the cost and risk of doing business for employers, and includes a waiting period that lacks flexibility and may result in fewer full-time workers and less hiring overall.

A change made to the legislation just this week singles out the construction industry. The provision, added by Senator Merkley (D-Ore.) singles out small construction firms for harsher treatment than any other industry. Whereas most employers with fewer than 50 workers that do not offer health coverage are exempt from fines and the new regulatory regime that applies to larger employers, under the newly added provision construction firms employing as few as five workers will be subject to health care coverage fines and regulatory requirements.  AGC received an overwhelming response from the call to action of the membership. In 24 hours, over 3,500 letters were generated to the Senate, giving voice to construction employers’ displeasure with this amendment. The amendment appears to have been added without full knowledge of a number of senators in both political parties.

The legislation now moves into conference where it will have to be merged with the House. This process will involve the Democratic House and Senate leadership, the president and his aides. The final outcome of the legislation remains uncertain but Democratic leaders are guessing that the final outcome will be a bill similar to the Senate bill, and it will be delivered to the president for his signature in early 2010.

This week, AGC delivered a letter to Congress on the health care bill and the Merkley amendment. It remains important for the construction industry to remain engaged on the issue; although the process has moved into conference we must remain united in opposition to a public option, expansion of employer and individual taxes and excessive spending. It is extremely important to keep the pressure on Congress to remove the language excluding the construction industry from the small employer exemption. You can use the tools of the Legislative Action Center to voice your concerns.

For more information, contact Jim Young at (202) 547-0133 or Return to Top

1st Session of 111th Congress Ends, Unfinished Business Remains

The first session of the 111th Congress came to end today with a final vote on the Senate’s comprehensive health care proposal and an extension of the federal debt limit up to $12.394 trillion (which will get the country through mid February). The U.S. House is scheduled to return on January 12 and the U.S. Senate on the 19, at which time they are expected to work towards finalizing the health care package and send it to the president for his signature.

The first session saw enactment of the stimulus, and a few temporary extensions of the highway program. The House passed climate change and introduced card check legislation. The 1st session ended with a sometimes bitter and partisan health care debate.

Next year is expected to be an even busier year in Congress as they race to complete action before the November mid-term elections. AGC has identified some of the major issues that are expected to impact the construction industry in 2010.

Health Care – In 2009, the House passed the Affordable Health Care for America Act, a $1 trillion bill that fails to address the root cause of rising costs. It will likely eliminate competition and restrict economic growth with punitive penalties for employers. The debate shifted to the Senate where they passed their version, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The Ssenate bill fails to make fundamental reforms, contain costs or make coverage more affordable in the future. It also removes the small business exemption for construction contractors. In early 2010 the two chambers will have to merge the versions into one bill before it can be sent to the president.

“Jobs” Bill – The House passed the Jobs for Main Street Act before adjourning for the year.  The $174 billion bill includes $50 billion in funding for infrastructure.  The Act provides $27.5 billion for highways, $8.4 billion for transit, $2 billion for water infrastructure, $815 million for Army Corps and $500 million for airports.  The bill also extends the current highway reauthorization through September 2010.  The Senate has not indicated their support for the House package.  They intend to focus on a "jobs" bill of their own when the Senate returns January 19, 2010.   In addition, the administration is likely to present a specific plan to create jobs to coincide with President Obama's State of the Union address.  AGC continues to work closely with leadership in the House and Senate, as well as the administration, to ensure that any "jobs" bill enacted into law includes a significant increase in infrastructure spending targeted to existing programs that can have an immediate impact in providing the construction industry with a much-needed shot in the arm. 

Surface Transportation Reauthorization - SAFETEA-LU expired on September 30, 2009, and Congress extended the law three times, with the latest deadline being February 28, 2010. While key transportation leaders in the House and Senate talk about the importance of passing a six-year reauthorization, proposals being considered will provide an extension through the end of 2010. How to provide needed revenue to increase investment levels remains the primary stumbling block to a long-term authorization. AGC supports and continues to advocate a six-year highway and transit bill.

Energy and Climate Change - The House passed comprehensive energy and climate change legislation in 2009. The Senate is expected to take on the issue and must decide on whether a market-based system (i.e., “cap-and-trade”) is the best way to regulate and reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.  AGC opposed the House passed bill. 

Card Check - The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) was introduced in 2009 and proposes major changes in the way union organizing and first-contract settlements take place.  The Senate continues to struggle with getting 60 votes needed to break a filibuster. AGC opposes EFCA and any compromise to EFCA.

Tax Reform - A broad range of tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003 are set to expire on December 31, 2010, resulting in significantly higher tax rates for businesses and individuals. Congress will have to consider whether to extend or modify existing tax law in the context of the recovering economy, growing deficits and policy agenda in a mid-term election year.  Congress may consider AGC priorities such as 3 percent withholding, estate tax reform, independent contractors and look back accounting. 

Clean Water Restoration Act – The House may consider this legislation, which would significantly expand federal jurisdiction over waters and wetlands under the Clean Water Act and require all construction activity first to obtain a permit. The Senate is working on a compromise. AGC opposes the legislation as well as the Senate compromise.

Water Infrastructure Funding – The House authorized $39.19 billion over five years for drinking and wastewater infrastructure and other water quality improvements, primarily through the Clean and Drinking Water SRF programs. The Senate is expected to consider it in early 2010. AGC supports this additional funding authorization, as well as a deficit neutral, off-budget and firewalled dedicated revenue source for water infrastructure. AGC also supports eliminating the volume cap for private activity bonds for water and sewage facilities.

Immigration - The administration and some Congressional leaders have indicated that they want to try to tackle comprehensive immigration reform in 2010.  AGC is engaged in the discussions on employer responsibilities and duties, as well as the development of a workable future workplace visa. 

Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization – This program has been operating under short-term extensions since it expired in 2007. It remains unclear if Congress will be able to resolve a number of contentious issues in the legislation in 2010. AGC is pushing for appropriate increases to the aviation user fee structure to meet airport capital investment needs while also providing for air traffic control modernization.

Water Resources Development Act Reauthorization – This is a biennial comprehensive water resources law that authorizes U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects. It was last authorized in 2007. Congress has begun drafting legislation, and AGC supports timely passage.

Federal Contracting Reform – In 2010 Congress is expected to address several key areas: contract bundling; reauthorization of the Small Business Act; address counting subcontractors at lower tiers; and review of the rules governing the HUBZone program and Alaskan Native Corporations (ANCs). AGC supports reform of the federal procurement process to recognize construction’s unique melding of industry sectors while ensuring the government is using the most cost-effective method of procurement.

For more information, contact Jim Young at (202) 547-0133 or Return to Top

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