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.

Public Policies Considered for Legislation – June & July 2014

During the months of June and early July, the state legislature considered legislation pertaining to a variety of public policies. Here are some examples:

  • House Bill 2302 sponsored by Rep. Harhai (D-Westmoreland County) would authorize the Department of Community and Economic Development to issue grants to municipalities to eradicate and prevent blighted property conditions through a property maintenance code enforcement program.
  • House Bill 1550 sponsored by Rep. Milne (R-Chester County) would consolidate business loan programs under the Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority (PIDA). The programs to be consolidated include the following: Small Business First and its affiliated programs, Machinery and Equipment Loan Fund, and Industrial Development Program.
  • House Bill 1699 sponsored by Rep. Ross (R-Chester County) would establish the Reciprocal Internal Combustion Engine Act to regulate standby emergency generators that are compensated for their participation in PJM (the electric grid) demand response programs.
  • House Bill 2354 sponsored by Rep. Snyder (D-Greene County) establishes the Pennsylvania Greenhouse Gas Regulation Implementation Act that would require the Department of Environmental Protection to obtain approval from the state legislature for a State plan designed to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants before submitting such a plan to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for approval.
  • House Bill 2239 sponsored by Rep. Evankovich (R-Westmoreland County) would establish guidelines for public private partnerships for local governmental buildings or facilities used for public water supply or treatment, storm water treatment and disposal, and waste water treatment and disposal.
  • Senate Bill 1409 sponsored by Sen. Rafferty (R-Montgomery County) would amend the Board of Vehicles Act to allow a manufacturer of electric cars (such as Tesla) to sell directly to the consumer through up to five manufacture-owned dealerships. Senate Bill 1409 has been signed into law as Act 125 of 2014.
  • Senate Bill 1096 sponsored by Sen. White (R-Indiana County) would amend Title 26 (Eminent Domain) by clarifying that a property owner whose property is taken via eminent domain shall be reimbursed up to $4,000 per property for appraisal, attorney, and engineering fees (regardless of right, title, or interest). Senate Bill 1096 has been signed into law as Act 120 of 2014.
  • Senate Bill 1422 sponsored by Sen. Tomlinson (R-Bucks County) amends Title 42 (Judiciary) by limiting successor liability for asbestos-related claims. Senate Bill 1422 was signed into law as Act 112 of 2014.
  • House Bill 118 sponsored by Rep. Ellis (R-Butler County) would extend whistleblower protections to employees of for-profit and non-profit corporations that receive money from a governmental entity to perform work or services. House Bill 118 has been signed into law by Governor Corbett as Act 87 of 2014.