Your Congress in Action is a series that highlights the Capitol Hill news that affects CRM firms the most. Be sure to subscribe to the ACRAsphere to ensure you don't miss an update.
As President Biden enters his second full month in office, his vow to work with both parties is running headlong into the reality that Capitol Hill continues to beset by bitter partisanship. And while he is showing some early success in advancing his policy agenda, tensions between the parties may make progress more difficult in the months to come.
On the legislative front, Biden is on his way to getting his first major bill signed into law – albeit without the support of Republicans. On Friday, the House voted 219-212 along mostly party lines to pass a $1.9 trillion COVID relief package that includes an increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, $1,400 direct checks for Americans making $75,000 or less a year, an extension of $400 federal unemployment benefits, additional help for small businesses and funding for state and local governments. The bill now goes to the Senate, where a vote may come as early as this week. However, the minimum wage increase was dealt a severe blow when the Senate Parliamentarian ruled that the provision violated budget rules. This effectively means that Democrats would need to gain the support of at least 10 Republicans to get a minimum wage increase beyond a filibuster.
Once that package is done, President Biden and Congressional Democrats hope to move to their next big item: infrastructure. During the campaign, Biden proposed a $2 trillion investment in repairing roads, bridges and water systems. Although Biden has said he wants a bipartisan bill, it is far from certain that Senate Republicans will support a package of that size. Democrats may decide to pass the bill without GOP support, like the COVID package. But doing so would likely inflame tensions between the parties even further, making progress on a host of other issues – from health care to immigration – even more difficult.
Meanwhile, partisan fighting has impeded process on confirming Biden’s cabinet. The Senate is moving far more slowly on confirming the 46th President’s nominees than it did for his predecessors, making it hard for federal agencies to get up and running. And at least one of Biden’s choices – Office of Management and Budget Director Neera Tanden – is facing defeat due to past comments she made about Republican lawmakers.
That said, last week saw Biden’s pick for Interior Secretary move a step closer to conformation. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held two days of confirmation hearings for Interior Secretary-designate Deb Haaland. Following the hearing, Committee Chair Joe Manchin (D-WV) announced he would support her nomination despite his reservations over her views on fossil fuels, which means she is almost certainly going to be confirmed, even if few or no Republicans support her. Once Haaland is confirmed, she had a lengthy do-to list, including addressing the previous administrations effort to undermine NEPA as well as their last-minute move to alter Sec 106 regulations.
The partisan tensions come as the country continues to struggle with the pandemic and resulting economic fallout. Although additional money for small businesses in the COVID relief bill will help, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) has had some unintended consequences, especially for small firms.
One example, which a number of ACRA members have raised, is about how taking PPP loans affects how much firms can be paid on federal government contracts. The Defense Department has interpreted a provision in federal procurement rules to mean that PPP recipients whose loans are forgiven must credit the value of the loan back to the government when they contract with federal agencies. This could force many small firms to choose between accepting PPP loans and seeking government contracts.
As ACRA has expressed to Capitol Hill, “At a time when millions of small businesses are struggling to make payroll and keep employees on the job, the requirement to credit forgiving PPP loans back to the government will not only create a disincentive for businesses to seek government contracts, which will deprive many agencies of talent and even slow down projects; it will also disproportionately impact minority- and women-owned firms.”
ACRA and other industry organizations are working to educate lawmakers about the issue and seek a solution. While this is the kind of issue that doesn’t make it to the front pages, it’s just one example of how federal policies impact CRM firms, and how ACRA advocates for member firms when issues come to their attention.
It also shows why ACRA member firms need to need to engage with their elected representatives. After all, no matter how partisan Washington gets, Democratic and Republicans elected officials alike listen to their constituents.