The 116th Congress commenced last week, bringing a divided Congress with Democrats back in control of the House of Representatives; a record number of women serving (102 women in the House and 23 in the Senate); a large contingent of potential 2020 Presidential candidates on both sides of the aisle; and a raft of unfinished business from 2018. The last time there was a Republican Senate and a Democratic House was in the mid-1980s and the partisan split between the two chambers will make it a challenge to find common ground and pass legislation.
While the newly empowered House Democrats may not be able to achieve many of their legislative ambitions, they will be able to perform oversight on the Executive Branch and hold various officials accountable, including the President and cabinet secretaries. One of the first orders of business will be ending the government shutdown and restoring funding to several agencies, including Agriculture, Interior, Treasury and Commerce. With both sides deeply dug in on whether to fund a border wall or not, this could be a difficult task.
Amid a laundry list of issues presented to the new Congress, our focus remains on the issues and priorities of importance for the RV industry:
Congress must approve the new US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) during this Congress. With Democrats retaking the House, the path to implement legislation for the USMCA becomes more difficult. Democrats are generally less inclined to support trade agreements, but the largest question for the Democratic caucus will be the position of organized labor and unions. Further, animosity between House Democrats and President Trump make it unlikely that a deal will be easily or swiftly reached as the House will want to deny President Trump any major victories that he can point to during his 2020 reelection effort.
Other major trade initiatives include a new policy toward China, possible roll back of presidential authority under Section 232 of the Trade Act and potential free trade agreements with the EU and Japan. Expect a lot of oversight and hearings on these issues, as well.
The failure of the last Congress to approve a legislative fix to the floor plan financing deductibility issue means the new Congress will have to take it up - again. Democrats heading the House Ways and Means Committee plan to have hearings about the unintended consequences of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to ensure transparency for any potential technical corrections. They would then begin negotiations among the Ways and Means Committee, the Senate Finance Committee, the Joint Committee on Taxation and the Treasury Department on which corrections are needed and what form they should take.
The floor plan tax fix legislation from last Congress will be reintroduced early in the new Congress and should be in the mix for inclusion in any corrections package.
Despite last year’s White House infrastructure plan never gaining traction, both President Trump and members of Congress seem optimistic on the possibility of driving through a plan in 2019. On January 3, Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway told reporters that, “We see some of the Democrats making joyful noises about infrastructure and keeping the economy humming and hopefully we can rely on them.” Additionally, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), chairman of Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has indicated that he plans to have infrastructure policy legislation ready by summertime. Other members have said in off-the-record conversations that they believe that the political will for an infrastructure bill is there, passage will just come down to the details.
One of the largest sticking points will be how to pay for any plan, with Democrats generally being skeptical of the White House’s planning to rely on significant private sector backing. Ultimately, building consensus and passing an infrastructure package looks to be atop both President Trump and Congress’ legislative lists for 2019.
Additionally, the federal affairs team and the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable (ORR) are currently engaging House and Senate Committee chairs to advocate that a “recreation title” be included in any infrastructure legislation which will help tackle the $20 billion of public lands and waters deferred maintenance needs and crumbling infrastructure, which includes roads, bridges and campgrounds that are important to the RV industry.
The federal affairs team and ORR government relations committee worked diligently with House and Senate natural resources committees and key members of Congress during the 115th session to craft a Public Lands bill that would address numerous outdoor recreation and conservation needs across our nation’s iconic public lands and waterways. Although a Public Lands bill was teed up and ready to pass Congress, House and Senate Leadership did not act on this vital piece of legislation during the lame duck session.
As the 115th Congress adjourned, Chairman Murkowski (R-AK) and Chairman Grijalva (D-AZ-3) made a commitment that the new Congress will work on passing Public Lands legislation, including the reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), early in the new session. The Senate has already made good on its commitment and introduced S.47, a version of last year’s public lands bill that garnered bipartisan support.
The RV Industry Association and ORR will continue to work with Congress to ensure much needed outdoor recreation reform and LWCF funding will be a priority this session.