Dec 18, 2019 - 12:00pm

Congress Takes Key Steps to Propel American Businesses Forward with End-of-Year Legislation


Executive Vice President and Chief Policy Officer, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

The past week has seen a flurry of activity in Congress, with resolutions on a large number of issues being worked on by the U.S. Chamber. While not all issues were resolved in the manner we desired, collectively, this final burst of legislation will provide greater certainty to the economy – bolstering American businesses, jobs, and families.

In addition to the final agreement on USMCA, which we expect to pass the House this week and the Senate early next year, below are several of the U.S. Chamber’s priorities that will become law before the end of the year:

Healthcare

What happened: 

  • Permanent full repeal of the Cadillac Tax, the Health Insurance Tax (HIT), and the Medical Device Tax.
  • Extension of the “health extenders” through May 22, 2020.
  • Ten-year reauthorization of the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI).
  • Raising the legal smoking age to 21.

Why it's important: 

  • The Health Insurance Tax (HIT), the Medical Device Tax (MDT), and the so-called “Cadillac Tax” undermine employer-sponsored health care coverage, contribute to rising health insurance premiums, and hurt our nation’s economic growth and job creation.
  • Extension of the “healthcare extenders” will ensure the opportunity to continue to work on outstanding healthcare policy issues
  • Reauthorization of PRCORI ensures Americans have access to high-integrity, evidence-based information from research guided by patients, caregivers, and the broader healthcare community.

Retirement

What happened:

  • Enactment of the SECURE Act retirement package, which expands retirement options for small businesses, reduces the administrative burdens on employers, and enhances retirement security for those in defined benefit plans.

Why it’s important:

  • The SECURE Act expands retirement coverage by making it easier for all businesses to offer coverage, while keeping the important Federal protections under ERISA for employees.

Supporting American Exporters

What happened:

  • Seven-year reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank.
  • Additional resources to promote U.S. commercial interests through U.S. diplomatic missions.

Why It’s Important:

  • The Ex-Im Bank’s mission is to support domestic jobs by facilitating the export of goods when private-sector lenders are unable or unwilling to provide financing. This is especially important in helping small businesses turn export opportunities into sales abroad.
  • The reauthorization also included a vital provision that would establish an alternative procedure if there is a lapse in Ex-Im Board’s quorum, ensuring that Ex-Im can continue to serve its role in supporting U.S. jobs.

Insurance Provisions

What happened:

  • Seven-year reauthorization of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA).
  • One-year extension of the National Flood Insurance Program. This extension will provide an opportunity to work on long-term reauthorization next year.

Why it’s important:

  • TRIA has served as a vital public-private risk sharing mechanism, ensuring that private terrorism risk insurance coverage remains commercially available and that the U.S. economy would more swiftly recover in the event of a terrorist attack.

Immigration & Tourism

What happened:

  • H-2B visa cap relief and other provisions that give H-2B employers additional certainty and flexibility to meet their seasonal workforce needs.
  • One-year reauthorization of the EB-5 Regional Center program.
  • Seven-year reauthorization of Brand USA, the public-private partnership that promotes international tourism to the United States.

Why it’s important:

  • With companies struggling to meet their seasonal workforce needs, additional H-2B visas prohibit onerous new compliance requirements, and the added clarity regarding the terms of employment for H-2B workers will ensure that more American businesses will be able to meet their personnel needs, expand their operations, and most importantly create new jobs for American workers. 
  • The U.S.’s share of the international travel market has been declining since 2015, and many expect this trend to continue for the foreseeable future. The multi-year authorization of Brand USA, the public-private partnership that markets American tourist destinations to international visitors, is critical to reversing this trend and stimulating domestic job growth and economic activity.

Transportation Infrastructure

What happened:

  • Block the Rostenkowski Test, which would have required a $1.2 billion (12%) across-the-board cut to all transit formula funds in FY 2020.
  • Extension of the short line railroad tax credit.

Why it’s important:

  • These provisions will ensure that the public and private sectors can continue to invest in crucial infrastructure initiatives that keep American people and commerce moving.

Energy Innovation

What happened:

  • Record-high $425 million for the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) program at DOE, focused on high-risk/high-reward advanced energy technologies.
  • $230 million in new funding for an advanced reactor demonstration and research program aimed at reclaiming U.S. leadership in globally scalable emissions-free nuclear technologies.
  • Facilitating the investment in energy projects in European and Eurasian countries.

 Why it’s important:

  • Energy innovation is critical to developing and deploying the clean energy technologies necessary to address our climate challenge here and abroad. While business is leading, there is an important role to play for government in fostering quicker development and adoption of tomorrow’s technologies.

Water

What happened:

  • New funding and authority for the study, regulation, and clean-up of specific per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) that are of the greatest concern.
  • Funding for the administration of laws pertaining to regulation of navigable waters and wetlands, an important measure needed to implement the Administration’s revised definition of “Waters of the United States.”

Why it’s important:

  • It is crucial that Congress provide federal, state, and local authorities with the appropriate funding and oversight needed to address issues related to the presence of PFAS in environmental mediums across the nation. 
  • The definition of “Waters of the United States” is a key aspect of administering many of the Clean Water Act’s permitting programs, which are essential to the business community. The funding will provide for more effective and streamlined decisions within these programs and woll also ensure regulatory clarity for the business community. Additionally, these programs balance environmental and economic interests, allowing businesses to move forward with development projects.

Tax

What happened:

  • Extension of expiring tax provisions, including the controlled foreign corporation (CFC) look-through rules.

Why it’s important:

  • Extending certain tax provisions, such as the CFC look-through, would help American businesses compete in global markets.

Cybersecurity

What happened:

  • Significant new investments for cybersecurity including the U.S. National Institute for Standards and Technology, which received a $48.5 million increase.

Why it’s important:

  • NIST is a key partner of the private sector in designing effective ways to manage cybersecurity risks. NIST’s ongoing work with businesses—including crafting the NIST Cybersecurity Framework, producing a baseline for Internet of Things (IoT) device security, and promoting industry-driven standards internationally—is critical to the defense and prosperity of the U.S.

Small Business

What happened:

  • Secured $30 billion in lending authority for the SBA 7(a) program – the most popular loan service for U.S. small businesses.

Why it’s important:

  • Banks that offer SBA lending rely on an annual appropriation to reliably provide small businesses with government-backed loans. The 10-month spending measure provides certainty for small business owners who rely on SCORE, Small Business Development Centers, and other services SBA provides that benefit new, established, and growing businesses.

Defense

What happened:

  • Repeal of a current law that would have led to the U.S. Department of Defense disclosing proprietary technical data to outside competitors.

Why it’s important:

  • Protecting intellectual property is essential in government contracting in order to ensure suppliers are able to innovate without fear that their proprietary data will be shared with potential competitors.

 

About the Author

About the Author

Headshot of Neil Bradley
Executive Vice President and Chief Policy Officer, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Neil Bradley, executive vice president and chief policy officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, has spent two decades working directly with congressional committee chairpersons and other high-ranking policymakers to achieve solutions.