TAUC Legislative & Regulatory Update, October 2018
While Washington has been consumed by the drama surrounding the confirmation battle over the nomination of Brett Kavanagh to the U.S. Supreme Court and political battles leading up to the competitive midterm elections, Congress has quietly been racking up a series of legislative successes. Last month, Congress enacted five of the 12 annual appropriations bills prior to the Sept. 30 end-of-fiscal-year deadline, covering 80% of the government's discretionary spending. The two chambers have also agreed on comprehensive opioid legislation, a five-year FAA reauthorization bill and a Water Resources Development Act (the House has already passed these bills and the Senate is expected to pass them before the midterms).
Congress will still need to pass seven smaller appropriations bills, including the bill that would include funding for President Trump's proposed border wall, before the continuing funding resolution for those bills expires on Dec. 7. There is also the looming Nov. 30 deadline for the Joint Select Committee to report bipartisan legislative recommendations to address the looming multiemployer pension crisis.
Here is an exclusive update from TAUC on policy and regulatory issues of vital interest to contractors and the union construction and maintenance industry.
As mentioned earlier, the Joint Select Committee on the Solvency of Multiemployer Pension Plans (JSC) continues to work on possible solutions to the crisis facing multiemployer pension plans and the PBGC. Facing a Nov. 30 deadline to report recommendations, the JSC staff has been working to develop policies that can secure the support of a majority of the members. While discussions at the staff level have been productive, the JSC appears far from agreement on legislative recommendations. Most people engaged in this process do not expect much to be agreed to until after the mid-term elections. Members will face significant challenges to meet the Nov. 30 deadline and to ensure the recommendations receive the preferential procedural treatment provided in the legislation establishing the JSC.
TAUC continues to meet regularly with staff for members of the JSC to ensure that the perspectives and needs of contributing employers are reflected in the deliberations. We are working closely with the CEA, NCCMP, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to communicate the concerns of the employer community, and to urge that any recommendations brought forward not just focus on addressing failing plans but also include provisions to strengthen the entire multiemployer pension system.
Opioid Crisis Legislation
Both the House and Senate overwhelmingly passed compromise legislation to address a range of issues related to the opioid crisis. The bipartisan legislation included more than 70 provisions based on bills introduced by members of both the House and Senate and passed in both houses with large bipartisan majorities earlier this year. The President is expected to sign the legislation very soon.
The bipartisan legislation includes measures to strengthen law enforcement and public health provisions to address the opioid epidemic, which claims more than 100 people a day in the U.S. The bill will expand Medicare coverage for addiction treatment, expand recovery and prevention options, speed up research into nonadditive painkillers, provide additional resources to local communities to police illegal drug activities, and preventing illegal opioids and synthetic drugs from entering the U.S.
Public health experts believe the provisions of the bill will make a difference toward addressing the ongoing crisis, but urge Congress to provide the resources and funding to carry out many of the provisions. Congress included $4 billion to address the crisis in the FY 2018 omnibus appropriations. The FY 2019 appropriations bill signed by the President last weekend included $6.7 billion for programs that fight, treat and stop substance abuse.
TAUC has been working with the National Safety Council and other construction groups to ensure policies recognize the unique challenges facing the construction industry.
A couple of pieces of legislation have been introduced in this House this month that will strengthen the registered apprenticeship programs. H.R. 6693, the "Helping America Re-Develop High-Quality Accessible Training Act" (the "HARD HAT Act"), introduced by Congressman Anthony Brown (D-MD), would recognize construction contractors that are investing in the future of the construction industry through investments in registered apprenticeship programs in the awarding of federal construction contracts.
Also, Congressmen Donald Norcross (D-NJ) and David McKinley (R-WV) – the co-chairs of the Congressional Building Trades Caucus — have also introduced the "Pre-Apprenticeships to Hardhats Act" (PATH Act). The bipartisan H.R. 6820 would provide grants to assist nonprofit partnership, including joint labor management training programs, create and operate programs to provide work readiness skills. As Congress and the Administration worked on policies to increase apprenticeships and training opportunities, these bills can play an important role in strengthening the union construction industry and registered apprenticeship training programs. These types of proposals will expand training opportunities and reward contractors who invest in their workforce.
There has been a lot of recent activity related to the Trump Administration's efforts to address the nation's trade deficit.
North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) – The U.S. and Canada reached a deal late Sunday to update the North American Free Trade Agreement. The two countries will now join Mexico in updating the 1994 accord, which will be renamed the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. Under the terms of the agreement, major provisions of interest to TAUC and TAUC customers include:
Steel and Aluminum: U.S. tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum will remain in place.
Dispute Resolution Mechanism: Leaves NAFTA's dispute resolution mechanism
The new trade pact must be approved by Congress and will not be considered until next year.
The U.S. and China continue to engage in a trade dispute, with both countries targeted tariffs on goods imported from the other. The U.S. has imposed a 10% total of $250 billion in tariffs on goods imported from China. The rate is expected to increase to 25% by the end of the year. China has responded by imposing tariffs on 5,207 U.S. imports worth about $60 billion – bring the total amount of tariffs to $110 billion. Currently the sides are not talking to resolve the trade dispute.