Issues & AdvocacyFederal
Congress Returns With Large To Do List, Little Agreement on How to Do It
By Andrew Goldberg, Managing Director, Government Relations & Outreach
Members of Congress return to Washington this week, their plates filled with a number of important issues that affect architects and the general public. However, debates over foreign policy and the federal budget could delay action on key legislation.
One early example of how events are overtaking Congress’ plans, Senate Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) plan to take up the Shaheen Portman energy efficiency bill as soon as this week has put on hold, as the Senate is now expected to spend a good part of September debating a resolution to authorize military action against Syria.
Even once the debate over Syria is resolved, Congress will be faced with a number of critical deadlines that could impact the economy and the ability of the government to provide essential services. And with the 2014 midterm election season just around the corner, the window for Congress to act on pending legislation is narrowing. This means that the next two months could be critical in determining whether Washington takes action on energy efficiency, tax policy, procurement reform and other issues that impact architects and the built environment.
Here is a guide to what to expect:
• Energy Efficiency. Last spring, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved the Shaheen Portman Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act and sent it to the full Senate for debate. The underlying legislation, which has broad bipartisan support, would take a number of steps to promote energy efficiency in buildings. However, it also may be a vehicle for Senators to attempt to repeal the 2007 law that applies the 2030 sustainability targets to federal buildings. With debate over Syria expected to take about two weeks, the legislation will likely come up either later in September or further down the road.
• Tax reform. The Chairmen of the House and Senate tax-writing committees are hard at work putting together proposals to reform the federal tax code for the first time in more than a quarter century. Although there is a lot of interest in making the tax code simpler and lowering rates, the inherent complexities of the tax code – coupled with disagreements on how best to lower rates without busting the budget – make it an uphill climb for tax reform in the fall. Most observers expect that the House Ways and Means Committee will unveil a draft bill in the next few weeks, and may even work to advance it through committee, although further action in 2003 is unlikely. The AIA is currently leading a coalition in the design and construction industry to advocate for lower rates, fairness for small design firms, and continued incentives for design, such as the 179D energy-efficient commercial buildings tax deduction, which will expire at the end of 2013 unless Congress acts.
• Procurement reform. With the introduction last summer of the AIA-backed Design Build Efficiency Act of 2013 in the House, legislation that will make it easier for architecture firms to participate in federal design build competitions, there is some optimism that Congress could take positive steps towards improving the procurement process. In fact, the legislation could see action in House committees as soon as this month. But, as with other issues, getting it through both the House and Senate in 2013 with their busy schedules remains an uphill battle.
As Congress looks to address these issues, two major deadlines loom on the horizon that could throw all plans into disarray. First, September 30 marks the end of the 2013 fiscal year. Unless Congress passes legislation to fund government agencies beyond that date, agencies will need to shut down. Congress left town in early August without having passed any of the 12 appropriations bills that set funding levels for agencies. This means that Congress will need to pass a so-called continuing resolution in order to keep the government running. However, with large disagreements between the parties about the levels of funding – combined with continued concerns over the impact of sequestration on defense and domestic programs, along with an effort by some Republicans to tie a continuing resolution to defunding Obamacare, it is not certain that Congress will be able to keep the lights on into October.
Once that hurdle is passed, the next critical juncture point is in November, when the federal government will once again hit its debt ceiling, which would require Congress to raise the government’s borrowing authority in order to enable it to pay its bills. As with previous debates over the debt ceiling, there are some in Congress who do not want to raise the ceiling without taking major steps towards reducing the deficit. But, as previous budget battles have shown, finding a deficit reduction plan that can gain the support of the GOP-controlled House, the Democratic-controlled Senate and President Obama is not easy.
A government shutdown in October or a default on the nation’s debt in November could have major ramifications on not just the economy, but on the ability of both parties to get things done for the remainder of the year and 2014.
Stay tuned to the AIA Issues and Advocacy page for updates on Congressional action on these and other topics, and click here to see how you can tell Congress to address the major issues confronting the profession.
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