TAUC Legislative & Regulatory Update, March 2017
The 115th Congress and the Trump Administration continue to advance legislation and policies that will have a significant impact on TAUC members and their customers. 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: House and Senate Republican leaders continue to search for a path forward with the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). Now that a rewrite of the health care law is advancing, many Republicans in Congress are recognizing that while the overall law remains unpopular, certain aspects of it have strong public support. Meanwhile, Democrats continue to oppose any proposal that undermines major aspects of the ACA, and conservatives are insisting on a complete repeal of the law prior to the consideration of replacement legislation. This opposition gives leaders in both Houses of Congress little margin of error in developing proposals. They can repeal the law without Democratic votes, but they can’t completely replace it without the votes of some Senate Democrats.
The House released its repeal and replacement bill on March 6, and committee action is likely to occur later this week. At this point, there is no official legislative language available for review. Late last month a “draft” version of the House Republican plan was leaked. The draft heightened concerns from both the right and the left. Many on the right want immediate repeal of all aspects of the ACA, and are concerned with the draft’s proposal to create a refundable tax credit for the cost of the purchase of health insurance. One aspect of the plan that is a concern for union contractors is that the draft proposal includes a cap on the tax exemption for employer-sponsored health insurance to fund replacement legislation.
Things are not as far along in the Senate. Senator McConnell (R-KY) stated that he plans to move forward on dismantling the ACA “just as soon as we have the vote.” It is unclear what will be included in the Senate’s proposal. Many Senate Republicans have signaled that they will not vote for repeal without a replacement plan. While McConnell states that he expects little to no cooperation from Democrats on repeal, he will more than likely need some Democratic support on a replacement proposal.
Regulatory Reform and Action to Block Regulations: Efforts in Washington also continue on resolutions 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).
President Trump signed a resolution nullifying a Department of Interior Department rule that would have limited stream and groundwater pollution from mountaintop coal mining. This was the first successful effort to use the CRA to block a rule in 15 years.
The House has also passed separate resolutions to block regulations that could have an impact on the union construction industry, including resolutions:
The timeline for Senate consideration of these House-passed resolutions remains unclear. President Donald Trump continues to issue executive orders (E.O.) designed to lessen regulation and to target Obama-era regulations that cannot be considered under the CRA. These include an E.O. to require the EPA to begin the process of unwinding a rule that defines the rivers, streams and wetlands that fall under the Clean Water Act, the so-called “Waters of the U.S.” rule. It is unclear if the Administration’s goal is to simply kill the rule or try to write its own far narrower version. Trump is expected to sign an E.O. targeting EPA’s Clean Power Plan carbon rules for existing power plans. E.O.’s cannot by themselves repeal the regulations, but are likely to kick off a long process of rewriting them.
Infrastructure Investment: During his address to a joint session of Congress, the President once again raised his goal of leveraging $1 trillion in public-private partnerships and public capital to upgrade roads, bridges, ports and other infrastructure. The Administration recently held a meeting of at least 15 federal agencies as a first government-wide step toward crafting the President’s infrastructure plan. The meeting was said to focus on identifying new projects that would boost the economy; finding existing projects, such as the Keystone XL pipeline, that could be expedited; targeting policies, outdated rules and laws that could delay projects; and developing funding and financing options. The timing for the development of the proposal is uncertain.
On the Hill, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Lisa Murkowski and House Energy and Commerce energy subcommittee Chairman Fred Upton held a formal meeting to develop an energy section of broader infrastructure legislation that may move through Congress. It is expected that the package would build on elements of the comprehensive energy legislation that Congress could not finalize last year.
Pensions: Lawmakers and retired coal miners continue to push today for a permanent fix to the United Mine Workers’ multiemployer health and pension plans. The continuing funding resolution passed in December included a temporary measure to fund healthcare benefits for retired coal miners whose companies went bankrupt. Those funds will be depleted when the CR expires at the end of April. Last Congress, similar legislation had been targeted as a possible vehicle for multiemployer pension reforms.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) reintroduced legislation that would fundamentally undermine the reforms contained in Multiemployer Pension Reform Act (MPRA) by changing the voting procedures for plan participants considering a rescue plan under MPRA to make it very unlikely rescue plans developed by plan trustees will be approved.