Funding Issues for Government, Infrastructure Pushed Off To December
Despite the interruptions caused by COVID-19 afflicting Washington, NUCA’s government affairs programs continued over the past few months, leading towards our successful Sept. 23 virtual Washington Summit. The November federal elections for the President, all of the House, and one-third of the Senate continue to arrange the schedule and work of Capitol Hill, including any progress on infrastructure and government resources legislation.
Government Shutdown Averted for Now: Deadline Extended to December 11
Congress passed a continuing resolution (CR) Sept. 30 which President Trump signed into law shortly after midnight on Oct. 1, averting a full government shutdown. The CR extends government funding largely at current levels through Dec. 11, setting up another government funding showdown during what is shaping up to be a packed lame-duck session.
The CR legislation also includes transportation-related funding through a one-year extension of the FAST Act until Sept. 30, 2021, which NUCA advocated for as a part of our 2020 Washington Summit. The FAST Act is the federal surface transportation law used for highway funding. Among the provisions in the legislation was the allocation of $13.6 billion to bolster the Highway Trust Fund, as well as an extension of 2017 and 2018 BUILD grant program obligation deadlines through Sept. 30, 2021.
The extension of the FAST Act was a critical NUCA priority, as the COVID-19 pandemic has already caused the delay or cancellation of surface transportation projects worth more than $8 billion. NUCA will continue to fight to ensure that the critical work of utility infrastructure remains fully funded, as Congress looks to negotiate a long-term extension to the FAST Act in 2021.
COVID-19 Relief Talks Remain Stalled
Unfortunately, as of press time, COVID-19 stimulus/relief legislation remains stalled, with House Democrats and the Trump Administration/Senate Republicans still unable to reach a deal.
The main obstacle remains the size of the package. A major contingent of the Senate Republican caucus is unwilling to vote for a deal that would add trillions to the deficit, and consequently will not vote to provide the aid to state and local governments that House Democrats are insisting any deal is contingent upon. The two sides remain about $1 trillion apart.
Earlier in the month, it appeared progress was going to be made in time for the election. Senate Republicans proposed in early September a new, smaller package of COVID-19 aid as talks with House Democrats remained at a standstill. No progress was made on a further relief package during the August recess, so this offer by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was thought to be the start to a potential piecemeal approach to further economic relief.
However, the Senate on a mostly party-line 52-47 vote on Sept. 10 scuttled that GOP attempt, sending both sides back to the negotiation tables. This GOP bill did include some coronavirus liability protections for businesses and additional small business relief funds, but did not contain any additional aid for local governments to combat the economic damage, such state highway funding for existing and scheduled projects.
An earlier GOP bill (HEALS Act) contained a number of pro-industry provisions, such as coronavirus loan reforms, tax credits for employee testing and workplace cleaning, and $190 billion in additional stimulus. The House Democrats, who passed their $3 trillion HEROES Act package back in May, are seeking about $2 trillion in coronavirus relief, with Republicans still skeptical of any packages above $1 trillion.
House Democrats, after additional negotiations with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, recently introduced a new $2.2 trillion package, which would provide $436 billion in aid to state and local governments as well as additional aid for small businesses. Additional Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans would also be authorized under the package, and eligibility would be expanded to include certain 501(c)(6) organizations. The bill also would expand PPP loan forgiveness to include purchases of personal protective equipment for employees and customers, payments for inventory, raw materials, and supplies, and costs related to property damage, vandalism, or looting relating to public disturbances in 2020 so long as the damage was not covered by insurance or other compensation.
The House package passed Oct. 2, mostly along party lines, with all Republicans and 18 Democrats voting against. However, the bill as passed by House Democrats remains far from the Senate GOP position, and the House bill lacks many of the pro-industry provisions that the latter have insisted on including in any final package. With elections just less than a month away and a contentious U.S. Supreme Court fight on the horizon, expect that any further action on a relief bill may be held off until the post-election lame duck session.
NUCA 2020 Washington Summit a Smashing Success
NUCA is proud to announce the conclusion of our first-ever successful Virtual Washington Summit. Delayed from May and restructured due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, NUCA’s virtual Summit held on Sept. 23 saw widespread engagement from our membership and allowed us to weigh in with Congress at a critical time for our industry. Over the day, 140 NUCA members had over 75 meetings with their lawmakers, including 14 meetings attended by their elected Members of Congress.
Our members were able to use a new Summit website (WeDigAmerica.org) to track their legislative meetings, download issue fact sheets, and watch several videos where NUCA experts and leaders discussed our top priorities. The meetings were held on a variety of web platforms, including Webex, Zoom, GoToWebinar, and MS Teams. Our members were able to talk to their lawmakers from the safety and comfort of their own offices, which was a unique experience for our previous Summit attendees.
Lastly, as NUCA pivots to the 2020 general election results and begins planning our 2021 legislative strategy, please make sure that you are registered to vote and have a plan to cast your ballot, be it by mail or in-person, either early or on Election Day. Voting is the most important way that you can make your voice heard as a NUCA member. Please also give your employees time on that day to vote, as that ability to cast a ballot for our leaders is one of the most important rights we possess as Americans.
Watch for additional election-related NUCA communications as Election Day, Nov. 3 approaches, and keep an eye out for our column in the November/December 2020 issue detailing NUCA’s 2021 legislative strategy for the new Congress.
Eben Wyman is the principal of Wyman Associates, which represents NUCA governmental affairs.