Ask Your Resident Lobbyist

You wrote last month about the election, but didn’t actually make a prediction. What’s going to happen? — Mark, Pennsylvania

Will BrownYou wrote last month about the election, but didn’t actually make a prediction. What’s going to happen?
— Mark, Pennsylvania

I purposely didn’t make a prediction. For my purposes, I will be working with whoever is elected regardless of party or campaign rhetoric and regardless of the political landscape or leadership. The view of the campaigns and elections from Washington, I’ve learned over the last decade, is a distorted one. Washington is a political bubble, insulated from some of the important factors that influence elections like public confidence, the tone of political ads in particular areas and the strength of the get-out-the-vote campaigns for each party.

But if you want my two cents, I’ll give it to you, but take it with a grain of salt.

I think in the House, the GOP will pick up a handful of seats. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has shifted strategies from attacking vulnerable Republicans to focusing on strengthening vulnerable Democrats. Also, GOP groups and political action committees (PACs) have outspent their Democratic counterparts. I feel pretty confident about this prediction.

As for the Senate, the current division of power is 45 Republicans to 53 Democrats with two Independents who join Democrats. Three currently held Democratic seats are near certain GOP pickups: Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia. These three races will shift the balance to 48 Republicans, 50 Democrats and two Independents. From there, three Republican and seven Democratic seats are considered a “toss-up.” I believe Republicans will net four seats and take control of the Senate with 52 Republicans, 46 Democrats and two Independents. Keep an eye on the Georgia and Louisiana Senate races; in either, if no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote, the contest could be decided in a January and December runoff, respectively.

The rules for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) seem to always be changing. What’s the deal? What do I need to know?
— Deana, Texas

The deadlines for complying with the employer mandate have been delayed until Jan. 1, 2015 for businesses with more than 100 full-time employees, and Jan. 1, 2016 for businesses with more than 50 full-time employees. Businesses with less than 50 full-time employees are not required to provide healthcare for employees, but may be eligible for a tax credit if they do.

Healthcare offered by businesses with more than 50 employees must be both affordable and meet a minimum value. According to the law, “affordable” means healthcare costs do not exceed 9.5 percent of annual salary, and “minimum value” means coverage that covers at least 60 percent of healthcare costs.
NUCA will be circulating a white paper with in-depth analysis of the ACA.

What is happening in Washington? It seems like Congress hasn’t been doing anything lately.
— David, Florida

You’re right, but this isn’t really atypical. As elections approach, Congress traditionally recesses mid-to-late September to allow Members of the House of Representatives the opportunity to campaign for re-election full time for at least the entire month of October.

This year has been a bit of an anomaly, however, because of the heightened contentiousness between Republicans and Democrats, House and Senate, Congress and the White House. The potential shift in power fueled motivation on both sides of the aisle to do very little. Senate Democrats don’t want to give Republicans a legislative win leading up to the election and Republicans don’t want to work with Democrats and give them ammunition that could be used to maintain control of the Senate.

I’m new to NUCA. I get why government affairs is important, but what I don’t get is how anything gets done. How do you describe your job to people outside of D.C.?
— John, Arizona

My job is to represent you, NUCA members, before Congress, the Administration and any governmental agency. My goal is always to make the environment for contractors more conducive to business. Sometimes, this means pushing legislation that makes more money available for the projects you bid on. Other times it means engaging regulatory bodies to make regulations meaningful, worthwhile and effective, and at times combat them if proposals are unnecessary or harmful. My job is to build the relationships and trust needed to gain access to negotiations, propose legislative and regulatory language or amendments and build support for NUCA’s top priorities.

Without a robust government affairs operation, NUCA’s priorities risk being drowned out by other interests. This would set our priorities back and provide an opportunity for our opposition to increase their influence. This could result in significantly decreased federal investment in infrastructure, additional and burdensome regulations or significant changes that would make doing business very difficult. There is no shortage of interests seeking the kind of influence NUCA currently enjoys, but that just means we must remain diligent in building relationships and lobbying our priorities.

I think I’m cynical, but it seems like the name of the game in D.C. is money. Is there any way to make things better without stuffing money into the pockets of politicians? Isn’t that the very definition of corruption?
— Tom, Iowa

Yes, there are ways to make things better that do not involve large campaign donations. Despite what the mass media tells you, public outcry and mobilization behind a certain issue still rules the day. Congress still moves most quickly and with bipartisanship when citizens are united. The unfortunate part is this almost always comes only in conjunction with a crisis. This is why NUCA works so hard to build advocacy momentum for our priorities.

The Supreme Court has in the last few years ruled several times about campaign financing and the Federal Election Commission (FEC). They have determined that there are ways for individuals and corporations to properly avoid corruption while still contributing, in some cases, millions of dollars to campaigns, PACs and super-PACs. However, the Supreme Court has repeatedly held that campaign contributions are protected as an extension of free speech.

It is currently the law of the land, whether we like it or not, but there are some advantages. Contributing directly to a candidate’s campaign provides an opportunity to influence an election, which in tight races could mean the difference between a proponent of our issues in Congress and an opponent of our issues in office. The more proponents in your corner, the easier it is to make substantial changes and advance priorities.

Will Brown is NUCA’s Director of Government Affairs. 

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