TAUC Legislative & Regulatory Update, May 2019
As the 116th Congress rolls along, here is an exclusive update from TAUC on policy and regulatory issues of vital interest to contractors and the union construction and maintenance industry.
Construction Employers of America Legislative Conference
Thank you to all of the TAUC members who participated in the Construction Employers of America's (CEA) annual legislative conference earlier this month in Washington, DC. TAUC partnered with SMACNA and MCAA to host the conference. Nearly 200 union construction industry executives participated and met with federal lawmakers to advocate for legislation and policies to strengthen and grow the union construction industry.
The conference focused on advocating policies to reform the multiemployer pension system and authorize voluntary use of hybrid composite plans; increase infrastructure investment; strengthen labor protections; expand registered apprenticeships; and repeal the Cadillac tax on employer-provided health and welfare plans, among other priorities.
The conference was also a great opportunity to educate members of Congress and their staff about the priorities of the union construction and maintenance industry.
Congress continues examining the need to address the looming crisis facing the multiemployer pension system. The Senate Finance Committee held a hearing entitled "Challenges Facing the Retirement System." While the hearing primarily focused on expanding and strengthening defined contribution plans, a number of members on both sides of the aisle acknowledged the need to address the multiemployer crisis.
A number of coal state senators and members of Congress have renewed their push for Congress to first address the Mineworker's pension plan, which is expected to be the first major multiemployer plan to become insolvent. Separating the Mineworker's plan from the broader crisis could relieve pressure on Congress to have to act on a comprehensive reform bill. TAUC will continue to engage with members on the need for a comprehensive solution to the multiemployer pension crisis that protects both the retirement security of all plan participants and the long-term viability of contributing employers. Such a solution should authorize the voluntary use of hybrid composite pension plans.
On a related note, the Senate confirmed Gordon Hartogensis as head of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation by a vote of 72-27. Hartogensis was originally nominated by President Trump in May 2018, but his nomination was held up over a dispute related to nominations to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the National Labor Relations Board.
There continues to be a lot of activity on the potential development of an infrastructure package, which appears to be one area where there could be some compromise in a divided Washington.
$2 Trillion Infrastructure Package: House and Senate Democratic leaders met with the President and agreed to move forward on a $2 trillion infrastructure package this year. While they agreed on a topline number, how to pay for the package was not discussed. Participants agreed to meet again in three weeks to negotiate over revenue for such a large bill. That meeting is expected to be held next week.
House Energy and Commerce Committee Democrat's Infrastructure Package: Despite the lack of agreement on how to fund the infrastructure package, the House Energy and Commerce Committee Democrats released a broad package for programs in its jurisdiction, which includes clean energy, broadband access and safe drinking water infrastructure. The "Leading Infrastructure for Tomorrow's (LIFT) America Act" would provide more than $33 billion for clean energy, including $4 billion to update the U.S. electric grid to accommodate more renewable energy. An additional $23 billion would go toward energy efficiency efforts, such as retrofitting and weatherizing buildings to lower carbon emissions. The proposal also provides $21 billion for safe drinking water and $41 billion for broadband.
Workforce Development in Infrastructure Package: The bipartisan leaders of the Congressional Building Trades Caucus and the Congressional Career and Technical Education Caucus sent a letter to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee — the committee with primary jurisdiction over Federal infrastructure programs — to urge the inclusion of workforce development investments in the infrastructure package. The letter recommended that states be required to set aside a portion of funding received from the package be dedicated to workforce development programs. Fifty-one members signed the letter.
Permit Reform for LNG Projects: President Trump visited the International Union of Operating Engineers' Training and Education Center in Crosby, Texas to promote private investment in energy infrastructure and the need to streamline permitting of projects. At the event, the President signed two executive orders (EO) aimed at expediting federal approval of natural gas, oil and other energy projects.
The first EO would direct the Environmental Protection Agency to update guidance on states' authority under the Clean Water Act (CWA) to ensure that the provisions of the Act are implemented "consistent with statutory intent" and speed renewals of rights-of-way for energy projects by limiting states' ability to block Clean Water Act permits.
The second EO would limit the length of the permit process for cross-border energy projects to 60 days. Any infrastructure legislation is expected to include additional provisions to expedite project review and delivery.
Cadillac Tax Repeal
TAUC continues working with our partners to support bipartisan legislation to repeal the so-called "Cadillac tax" on employer-provided health care benefits.
Bipartisan legislation in the House – H.R. 748, the Middle-Class Health Benefits Tax Repeal Act of 2019, sponsored by Congressman Joe Courtney (D-CT) and Congressman Mike Kelly (R-PA) – would repeal the impending 40 percent tax on employer-provided health care. That legislation currently has cosponsors – significantly more than the 218 needed to pass legislation in the House. A bipartisan Senate companion bill was recently introduced by Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD) – S. 684. This bill currently has 35 cosponsors. Congress has twice delayed the implementation of this tax. H.R. 748 and S. 684 would repeal the tax all together.
OSHA Administrator Nominee Withdraws
As we write this update, there are reports that President Trump's nominee to lead OSHA – Scott Mugno – has unexpectedly withdrawn his name from consideration. Some 19 months after Mugno was first nominated, it appeared that the Senate was expected to consider Mugno's nomination in the near future. The agency has been without Senate-confirmed leadership for the entirety of the Trump administration.