A Season of Discontent? Congress Returns for a Difficult Fall Session
Congress did itself no favors when it left in July, postponing a number of difficult policy decisions for its fall session. With Congress scheduled to return next week, it’s a perfect time to lay out what’s likely to happen on NAIOP’s most important agenda items in what many are saying will be an incredibly politicized and partisan (even by today’s standards) few months in autumn.
Here are just a few of the items that members of the House and Senate will face on their return: a potential government shutdown fight with the federal government running out of money October 1, including a fight over continued federal funding of Planned Parenthood; a vote on the nuclear deal with Iran; and a disagreement between the House and Senate on how to pay for extending highway programs. Add to this a highly publicized visit and address to Congress by Pope Francis on September 24, who could easily make news (and put many elected officials in uncomfortable positions) with statements on negotiations with Iran, climate change, income inequality, and possibly abortion.
Let’s not forget all of this will be taking place in the context of a presidential race where Donald Trump is roiling the Republican establishment, and Hillary Clinton’s sliding poll numbers are causing a lot of hand-wringing among Democrats. Oh yes – one more thing: House Speaker Boehner is facing a revolt from conservatives in his own caucus, who want a vote to remove him as speaker in September.
What can we expect for the NAIOP agenda in this atmosphere? The good news is that a lot of work has already been done this year to set us up for action in the fall:
- Tax Extenders: The Senate Finance Committee has already passed NAIOP-supported tax extenders legislation. NAIOP agenda items included in the bill are 15-year qualified leasehold improvement depreciation, bonus depreciation, Section 179 expensing, new markets tax credits, the energy efficient commercial buildings deduction, and accelerated depreciation for business property on Indian reservations. Both House and Senate leaders have already conceded that permanent extensions of these provisions in a comprehensive overhaul of the tax code are not possible this year. This makes it more likely that a stand-alone extenders bill will move more quickly than in past years, when Congress waited until the closing days of December before sending a bill to the White House.
- Energy: Prior to leaving for its August recess, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee passed S.720, “The Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act of 2015,” with strong bipartisan support. Issues affecting increasing energy efficiency in commercial buildings have been an important part of the NAIOP public policy agenda, and we have worked with the cosponsors of the bill – Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) – to ensure that the legislation incorporates our suggestions. These include setting up a rulemaking process which allows for input from the commercial building industry to set proposed efficiency targets; consideration of economic feasibility and the up-front costs of achieving the proposed efficiency targets; and removal of zero-net-energy as the basis for increased efficiency targets, among others. The strong bipartisan support for the Portman-Shaheen bill makes it a potentially attractive bill for House and Senate leaders to move and show some legislative accomplishments early in the fall.
- Transportation: In legislative parlance, the Senate tried to “jam” the House leadership by passing a six-year highway spending bill in the days just before the House was scheduled to leave for August. It was a long-shot attempt to use the imminent expiration of highway trust fund to force the House to take the Senate bill. The House did not cave, having already passed a short-term extension that would allow action in the fall. It was the Senate, in fact, that ended up agreeing to the House’s short-term extension. These will be difficult negotiations, with GOP leaders in the House wanting to pay for new highway spending by making changes to the tax code for multinational corporations, and repatriating overseas income. In addition, pro-business Republicans and Democrats want to attach an extension of the Export-Import Bank to the bill, which is passionately opposed by conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats as “corporate welfare.” The Highway Trust Fund will run out of money October 29, so this will be on the “to-do” list very early. Infrastructure and transportation spending is an important part of the NAIOP agenda, and we will continue pushing for a long-term reauthorization.
Aquiles Suarez is Senior Vice President for Government Affairs at NAIOP.