Pro-Business · Pro-Texas

Federal Priorities

The Texas Association of Business (TAB) lobbies in Washington, D.C. to make the voice of Texas business heard. The federal priorities of the TAB represent the most important issues to the employers of Texas at the national level. For your convenience, we have compiled our agenda that is developed and approved by the TAB committee structure and Board of Directors.

TAB proudly takes its marching orders directly from Texas employers each time the association communicates with our state and federal leaders; fighting for employers every step of the way. TAB knows that what is best for Texas business is what is best for Texans. With a healthy business climate comes a strong tax base for the state; a friendly regulatory environment for businesses; improved access to a world-class education; more career opportunities during times of prosperity; and, most importantly, a better quality of life for Texas families.

UPDATES FROM FEDERAL LOBBY TEAM

Congress Unveils $1.3 Trillion Omnibus Ahead of Friday (March 23,2018) Funding Deadline

Late Wednesday night (March 21, 2018), Congressional leaders unveiled a massive $1.3 trillion omnibus spending measure  as they seek to clear their last major fiscal hurdle before the November midterm elections. The measure is the result of three days’ worth of tense negotiations in Congress, as well as the White House as Washington seeks to avoid its third government shutdown in as many months. The 2,200-page bill would keep the government funded through Sep. 30, 2018 and conforms to spending levels of the two-year bipartisan budget agreement reached in February to adjust defense and nondefense discretionary funding caps for FY2018 and FY2019.

Stalled negotiations led congressional leaders to abandon potential action on many controversial policy riders lawmakers were trying to include in the must-pass bill — likely one of the last major legislative vehicles to reach the President’s desk before the midterms. There is no agreement to protect so-called Dreamers, as Democrats had initially sought, or cuts to funding for sanctuary cities, as Republicans had wanted. Lawmakers also declined to insert Affordable Care Act (ACA) market stabilization language due to disagreements on whether ACA funds could be used for abortions.

The 2018 omnibus does include a host of additional priorities sought by both sides, including: (1) measures aimed to boost school safety and background checks for gun purchases; (2) $4 billion in additional money to fight the opioid crisis in the first installment of a $6 billion two-year commitment; (3) $21.2 billion to support to rebuild and improve infrastructure; and (4) a $16.1 billion boost in appropriations for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education and Related Agencies. The bill also includes $1.57 billion toward border security in the form of fencing along the southern border.

  • Timing. Despite the fact that many lawmakers are only seeing the bill for the first time tonight, the time to pass the omnibus is dwindling. It must clear both the House and Senate, then be signed by President Trump before 12:01 a.m. on Saturday — when the government’s current funding lapses — to avoid a government shutdown. The House is currently planning to vote on the bill Friday morning, sending the package to the upper chamber where Senate leaders will need to be careful to avoid the filibusters of any skeptical senators in order to pass it before midnight. With such a short timeline, any unforeseen delay may necessitate the use of a short-term continuing resolution (CR) to avoid the government slipping into a shutdown Friday night.
  • Potential Obstacles. The House Freedom Caucus and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) — who have expressed criticism about the underlying policy and transparency of the package — are considered the two most immediate obstacles toward clinching a deal to avoid a third shutdown. Both could put a wrench into leadership’s voting schedules if they stand firm on demanding any concessions to be included in the omnibus. President Trump reportedly signed off on the deal late this afternoon, but the possibility exists that he could veto the bill over certain marquee issues – such as border security and funding for the Gateway tunnel project in New York. However, that is considered unlikely, particularly if the government shutdown deadline is pressing.
  • Context. With the midterm elections approaching, there was an appetite from party leaders to swiftly reach an agreement on the spending bill so that they could turn their attention to the intensifying battles for control of the House and Senate in November. That led to punts on a few key issues – most notably ACA market stabilization and a solution for the deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA) program.

The explanatory statements for a selection of domestic appropriations packages – Labor-H, Financial Services, and Agriculture – are attached. The full complement of statements can be found on the House Rules Committee website here. We will keep you apprised of additional policy developments as Capitol Hill digs through the details of this year’s mammoth spending package.

Congress Increases NAFTA Pressure on Trump Trade Officials After Finance, W&M Hearings

Over the past few days, key trade policy figures from the Trump Administration – U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross – have testified to Congress on the Administration’s trade objectives, including in regards to the ongoing renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Talking to the Senate Finance Committee this morning, Lighthizer suggested (full statement) that a “great deal of progress” has been made in those negotiations and that he has “urged our trading partners to recognize that time is short” to complete a deal in time for consideration by the current Congress. The Chair of that Committee, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), said in his opening statement that an updated NAFTA “must be passed by Congress,” and that U.S. trade officials must “deliver an agreement that will be supported by Members who favor expanding trade with Canada and Mexico.”

In that vein, Republican lawmakers sent a letter to Lighthizer backing the inclusion of investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions in a renegotiated NAFTA after Lighthizer had defended oppositional views on ISDS to the House Ways and Means Committee in a hearing yesterday. Ways and Means Committee Chair Kevin Brady (R-TX) pressed Lighthizer on the issue saying that American property would be left “unprotected against discrimination, foreign seizure, regulatory abuses and other forms of unfair action,” without adequate ISDS language. Lighthizer responded that the “strongest argument” in favor of ISDS was Chair Brady’s support, and the Chair told reporters afterward that he believes “we can get to a good outcome.”

Adding to the pressure on the Administration, Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Cory Gardner (R-CO), and Steve Daines (R-MT) wrote a letter to President Trump earlier this week urging him to take a “much broader view” of the economic implications of NAFTA negotiations. Among the proposals backed by the senators is adding a “Competitiveness” chapter to NAFTA that would directly address the factors considered by companies when they decide where to locate and expand operations. Those factors would include permitting, regulation, workforce, and infrastructure. The senators also emphasize that the approach would ensure that a renegotiated NAFTA would be ratified before the midterm elections this November.

While the tripartite NAFTA negotiators signaled today that auto industry issues have been agreed upon – adding optimism that a deal is within reach – some key obstacles still remain. Political considerations in both Mexico and the U.S. are significant as Mexico will select a new president in July and the midterm elections will change the composition of Congress after November. Lighthizer told reporters earlier this month that negotiators would need to strike an “agreement in principle” by mid-April in order to avoid significant political headwinds. An eighth round of talks are expected early next month.

Questions?  Please contact Chris Lamond at clamond@thornrun.com