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How Congress Can Boost the Economy This Fall

Some people say they do their best work under pressure. Hopefully, that’s true for lawmakers in Congress. After a long summer break, both Houses return to Washington next week. Lawmakers will be under pressure, because they’ve left themselves only 13 days when both Houses are in session before the 2020 fiscal year begins on October 1. They need to pass a budget by then.

Democrats, who control the House but not the Senate, may try to extend the budget deadline, though. They are considering passing a short-term spending bill to keep the federal government running through November 22. But even as they are discussing various spending bills, lawmakers on both sides could quickly reach some bipartisan agreements and make progress in areas that are important to NAIOP members.

On Tax Policy:

The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act slashed tax rates across the board and maintained several incentives that are crucial to commercial real estate. But lawmakers also intended to make permanent a 15-year payback period for Qualified Improvement Property (QIP); instead, the bill contained what was essentially a typo. That drafting error is forcing businesses to recover these expenditures over 39 years or, in some cases, even longer.

This was an honest mistake that went unnoticed during the process of passing the bill. It has been identified by the Joint Committee on Taxation as one of only three provisions in the bill that require a true technical correction in order to have the statute reflect legislative intent. Congress should pass legislation that remedies this mistake and restores the original intent of the legislation.

On Trade:

Last November, representatives from the United States, Mexico and Canada signed the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). USMCA aims to update the North American Free Trade Agreement, ratified in 1994. For example, it would give better protections to intellectual property, a driving force of the 21st-century economy. It would also provide new enforcement mechanisms if a country violates the agreement. Mexico ratified the agreement earlier this year, but Canada and the U.S. have not done so yet.

The first step in Washington is for the House of Representatives to pass USMCA. It would then need to be approved by the Senate and signed by President Donald Trump. Lawmakers in both parties have been working over the summer to reach an agreement. Trade with Canada and Mexico already supports 12 million American jobs, according to the Business Roundtable. Furthermore, those two nations purchase about a third of all American exports. Ratifying USMCA could boost the economy, something both parties want.

On Energy Efficiency:

Lawmakers could take a popular step to improve the environment by passing S. 2137, the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act, also known as Portman-Shaheen. The bill has support on both sides of the aisle and in both the House and Senate. It would reduce energy and water use in federal facilities as well as private buildings.

Portman-Shaheen facilitates the creation of model building energy codes, or “example standards,” for use by state and local governments. It also takes steps to improve the data used by the Environmental Protection Agency in administering its Energy Star program.

On Infrastructure and Transportation:

The U.S. economy depends on reliable transportation and infrastructure, but the country is falling short. The latest infrastructure report card from the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the country a D+. Meanwhile, the federal FAST Act to fund transportation expires next year, which is, of course, a presidential election year, making it potentially more difficult to reach consensus on important issues.

The House has yet to schedule a hearing on a transportation reauthorization bill. But Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), the chair of the House Transportation Committee, says Democrats would still like to reach an agreement with the Senate and the White House on infrastructure. A bill that expands the use of public-private partnerships, provides federal funding for maintenance and repair, and streamlines the regulatory environment for major infrastructure projects would create jobs and improve the built environment.

Lawmakers will return to a politically divided capital, and with many lawmakers also making presidential bids, things may get even more contentious this fall. So September would be the perfect time to get things done and make bipartisan progress that would improve our economy heading into 2020.

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