TAUC Legislative & Regulatory Update, April 2017
The big news in Congress over the past month has been the inability of House Republican leaders to secure the votes to pass repeal of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). While President Trump continues to work to dismantle President Obama’s regulations, the failure of the House legislation has left the Congressional agenda uncertain and President Trump’s priorities in flux.
Here is an exclusive update from TAUC on issues of vital interest to contractors and the union construction and maintenance industry.
Repeal of the Affordable Care Act
The failure of the House legislation to repeal Obamacare has left House and Senate Republican leaders and the Trump Administration searching for a path forward. Given that Democrats will not support legislation repealing ACA, Republican leaders are caught between conservative hardliners demanding complete repeal of the ACA and moderates concerned about the elimination of popular aspects of Obamacare. Testifying at a congressional hearing, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price expressed the Administration’s intent on dismantling parts of the ACA by scaling back several federal mandates established by law.
Regulatory Reform and Action to Block Regulations
President Trump and the Republican congress continue their efforts to roll back major Obama Administration regulations. Congressional Republicans have been advancing resolutions to overturn regulations issued in the final days of the Obama Administration under the Congressional Review Act (CRA). Of interest to TAUC members is a CRA resolution signed by President Trump nullifying regulations that require employers to maintain a record of an injury or illness beyond the six-month statute of limitations set out in the OSHA statute. TAUC joined with other construction industry groups in support of Senate action on the CRA resolution eliminating the OSHA regulation.
The President also signed a CRA resolution repealing a rule requiring companies bidding on federal contracts over $500,000 to disclose past labor law violations. The ABC Southeast Texas Chapter dropped a lawsuit against contracting regulations once the law was nullified.
President Donald Trump also continues to issue executive orders (E.O.) designed to lessen regulation and to target Obama-era regulations that cannot be considered under the CRA. This includes an E.O. to require the EPA to reconsider the Obama administration’s climate change regulations, particularly carbon dioxide limits on both new and existing power plants. In response to the E.O., the EPA has canceled proposed guidance to states and model emissions trading rules for implementing the Clean Power Plan, as well as a proposal that would have rewarded states for taking early steps to curb carbon dioxide emissions before the rule took effect. The U.S. Supreme Court has halted implementation of the Clean Power Plan while the rule was under review in the courts. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit heard a full day of arguments on the rule in 2016 but has not yet issued its opinion. The EPA has asked that the lawsuits be halted while it reviews the Clean Power Plan.
The E.O. also repealed several Obama-era environmental directives aimed at reducing the federal government’s carbon footprint; requested the Interior Department end Obama’s moratorium on new coal mines on federal lands; and prohibited federal regulators from using the “social cost of carbon” (which attempts to quantify the effects of climate change) in economic analyses of future rules, among other provisions.
President Trump has reportedly indicated a desire to work on tax reform and infrastructure simultaneously. Both topics were major components of his campaign platform and after failing to advance an Obamacare repeal and replacement bill, the President is looking elsewhere for legislative victories. Some Republicans believe they could win Democratic votes for a tax reform measure if it includes an infrastructure component. Since infrastructure bills have tended to be bipartisan in the past, a tax reform measure combined with major new investments in infrastructure could succeed. That said, there is nothing “easy” about tax reform, just like there is nothing “easy” about healthcare reform, despite certain assertions otherwise. Significant tax reform and infrastructure bills are certain to be at least as complex, if not more so, than healthcare reform.
At this point, there is not a lot of clarity on the size and makeup of a possible infrastructure package and the source of the revenue to pay for additional investment. Despite the President continuing to insist that his Administration is “going to spin big” on infrastructure, to date, the Administration has stated that it is focused on process reform and identifying methods of delivering projects more quickly.
Legislation Attacking Labor Standards
We continue to see bills introduced in Congress to undermine or eliminate federal labor standards and prohibit the use of PLA’s. Recently, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform approved H.R. 1552, the “Fair and Open Competition Act”, which would eliminate the ability of the federal government to utilize Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) in executing contracts on construction projects. TAUC sent Committee members a letter opposing the bill.