Congressional Flerovium: Republicans, Small Business, & Earmarks

Creating public policy is as much a science as an art. It requires creativity, trial and error, finesse, and sometimes bull-headed determination.  On January 3rd a “refreshed” group of artisan/scientists will commence the country’s 114th Congress but sadly the rhetoric still seems more like Pollock’s Autumn Rhythm than Mendeleev’s methodical chart.

Our $64,000 question, however, is how the rhetoric will impact small businesses?

Republicans’ ascension means renewed efforts on pro-business issues.  For example, the House of Representative’s current Budget Committee Chairman, Paul Ryan (R-WI) will likely receive the Ways and Means Committee’s gavel giving him the runway he’s wanted to write tax overhaul legislation.  On the Senate side, Orin Hatch (R-UT) will lead the Finance Committee.  In addition to patent reform, Chairman Hatch will quickly move to repeal the medical device tax and later take up larger matters like the Highway Trust Fund.

House and Senate Small Business Committees preside over matters including commercial lending declines, rural small businesses access to resources, and level playing fields for small businesses’ access to federal contracts.

Senators Risch (Idaho,) Vitter (Louisiana,) and Rubio (Florida) are considering the Senate Committee’s chair while Representatives Graves (Missouri) Chabot (Ohio) Tipton (Colorado) and New Yorkers Richard Hanna and Chris Collins consider the House gavel.

As these pieces fall into place and Congress tries to accomplish…anything, one critical tool is missing: earmarks.  A new Congress gives leadership an opportunity to create new operational rules.  (US Const. Art. I, Sec. V, Clause 2)

In the name of fiscal responsibility, Republicans foolishly banned earmarking. Plainly, the decision stymies legislation.

Eliminating earmarks did not save taxpayer dollars.  The small amount reserved for earmarks simply shifted from Congress’s control to the administration.  Meanwhile, Congressional Members sacrificed a valuable trading tool.

It’s impossible to predict whether the 114th Congress can finally pass a transportation bill, but the process will be easier if Members who dig in their oppositional heels over some obscure provision can be persuaded to vote for the bill in exchange for a new bridge, bike path, or on-ramp.

Small businesses in Iowa who benefit from new highway construction will not take issue if a transportation bill finally passes in exchange for a new emergency room in Georgia.

The earmark ban, however, remains radioactive. No one touches it and consequently, legislation languishes. So, as the 114th Congress settles into its routine, appointing new chairmen and addressing issues for the country and small businesses, the question remains whether anything will actually get done. It’s been a long time since anyone has seen that happen.

Congressional progress, it seems, is like Flerovium: extremely radioactive, rarely, observed, and each with the atomic number 114!

This article originally appeared in SMC Business Council‘s December 17, 2014 edition of Government News.

by Aaron Grau

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If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.