The utility and excavation industry saw some meaningful benefits of Washington Advocacy in 2015. Coalitions of diverse industries came together to oppose and challenge several overly burdensome, costly regulations and have seen victories both within the agencies and within the courts. We grew our lobbying and advocacy footprint last year, giving us a monumental step forward in the capacity of what is possible to undertake. Finally, we saw a five-year surface-transporation bill signed into law with provisions we fought to include. It was a good year, but let’s not waste time celebrating.
2016 will be a difficult year legislatively. Congress will largely finish the bulk of its agenda before the Fourth of July holiday, resuming in July only to work on appropriations bills. Beginning in mid-July, Congress will recess until mid-September for a short 10-ish day session before recessing again until after the election. This doesn’t give us much time, so we must act swiftly!
The Supreme Court is likely to be active and impactful in 2016. It is likely there will be another Affordable Care Act challenge, an immigration challenge from the White House and a case dealing with EPA’s Waters of the US (WOTUS) rule headline that is sure to be a very popular campaign topic in 2016. When whoever is elected President in 2016 takes the oath of office in January 2017, three of the nine Supreme Court Justices will be over the age of 80.
This is likely to give the next President considerable opportunity to impact the makeup of the court with the potential to add three new justices to the bench — a fact both presidential candidates will impress upon voters. Because Supreme Court appointments are lifetime apointments, whoever wins the Presidency will almost assuredly have the opportunity to decide the makeup of the court and therefore the direction the court will move with respect to regulation, business practices, campaign fundraising and healthcare, all of which we want to be on the winning side.
As President Obama’s time in office comes to a close, his legacy will be mired by both parties. Republicans will argue he saddled future generations with more debt and government entitlement, while keeping none of his campaign promises to restore civility to politics. Democrats will argue that President Obama did not go far enough with respect to climate change, Guantanomo Bay, regulating corporations and income inequality. Around this time next year, you’ll hear the pundits discussing legacy. Don’t bother listening, because nobody ever gets legacy right immediately after the fact. Every president is judged many years down the road, for better or worse. It’s best to focus on what we can do to ensure our priorities are voiced and heard by whatever administration wins next.
For NUCA’s advocacy priorities, there will be a few new issues added to the mix and a few will be dropped. Starting with the latter, with surface transportation reauthorization wrapped up in December, we can shift our focus away from highways. We can also shift our focus away from reforming healthcare because it will be a significant topic within the presidential debate, leaving the decision of which direction to take the Affordable Care Act to the victor (another significant reason to pay attention to the campaigns). A number of our regulatory priorities are also awaiting action and judicial review, leaving us in a holding pattern until the courts sort them out.
There are a few topics NUCA will hit harder than in the past. NUCA is already more active within the State Revolving Fund (SRF) appropriations process than we have been in the past. This is a result of a growth in interest through the Clean Water Council and in interest from Capitol Hill. We have been working with individual members to implement a plan which we hope will add to a slightly higher dollar appropriation for the SRFs.
Believe it or not, it’s time to discuss the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) again. NUCA will again be advocating for increased flexibility in the financing of projects and greater streamlining of project approval.
Our two major new priorities are focused around engaging and activating our membership and advocating for workforce development proposals that will help the construction industry train and retain workers. You will see a significant push in the New Year from NUCA’s Government Relations team to help every member understand more about what advocacy and lobbying is and why it is so essential to be done. You’ll also be given greater opportunities to learn how you, even with busy schedules and projects, can make a meaningful impact on our priorities without spending a significant amount of time or traveling all the way to Washington, D.C., (although we do strongly encourage you to attend the Washington Summit May 23-26).
Every contractor deals with workforce issues. Training, retaining and finding good employees are difficult hurdles that are especially tall for the construction industry. In 2016, NUCA will work with the federal government and state-based resources to help incentivize young Americans to see the benefits of working in the construction industry. Without a trained and safe workforce, we understand how hard it can be to maintain your business, so we’re working to make it easier for you. You’ll want to pay attention.
There’s a lot to be excited about in 2016 and a lot to get and keep you engaged. If a national election is not enough, then hopefully some priorities that will boost your bottom line and make work easier will convince you that NUCA’s Government Relations team is making a difference and improving your industry.
Will Brown is NUCA’s Director of Government Affairs.