Capitol Update: Consensus by Executive Order

Apartment Industry Colleagues,

It has been a mixed month in the never-ending quest to find consensus in Washington, D.C. During his recent State of the Union Address, the President set down a new formula for achieving the objectives on his public policy wish list: White House Idea – Congressional Support = Executive Order. Case in point, the President wants to increase the minimum wage. He knows the Republican House of Representatives will never hold a vote on that proposal so he signs an executive order raising the minimum wage for federal contract workers to $10.10 per hour. This is a relatively small group of people; however, it gives the President a couple of things. First, he can put points on the board. Second, he was able to do it without the involvement of Congress, effectively sidestepping forces opposing his every legislative move.

Executive Orders are nothing new and this is not the first time they have been used. Defended by Presidents using language found in Article II of the Constitution, Executive Orders have been used since the birth of the republic with varying frequency. George Washington used them eight times while Ulysses S. Grant set a new record of 217. Teddy Roosevelt was a fan of Executive Orders, issuing them more than 1,000 times while Herbert Hoover came close to that record at 968. The title holder, however, is Franklin Delano Roosevelt who issued 3,522 Executive Orders in his tenure at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  President Obama has issued 168 Executive Orders so far which puts him behind George W. Bush (291), Bill Clinton (364) and Ronald Reagan (381).

Not to worry, there are healthy limits on what the President can do without the support of Congress. He can work at the margins, but cannot deliver wide-ranging policy changes with the stroke of a pen. The act of issuing these orders has greater impact as a public relations tool to show the nation that the President can and will act even if stymied by Congress. It’s worth noting that the President has also utilized this end-around tactic with recess appointments for cabinet posts, including the National Labor Relations Board and the Consumer Financial Protection Board.

I dare say that these moves by the President do not strike the kind of bipartisan tone that could help the Congress and White House close the loop on some of the big issues confronting the nation. Of course, Congressional Republicans have not exactly been sending up flags of parlay with the White House lately. They seem as committed to zero negotiations with the President as he is committed to moving forward to the extent he can without them.

Presidential shots across the proverbial bow notwithstanding, there were some genuine bipartisan accomplishments last month worth noting. At long last a five-year farm bill was passed complete with funding – albeit with a haircut – for food stamp programs. As well, a budget deal was reached that takes the threat of a government shutdown off the table for a while. Combined with what appears to be capitulation by Republicans on increasing the debt limit, this effectively ends the budget wars for the foreseeable future. What will we talk about?

By the look of things, we are going to talk about a lot, but the question is will anything get done? There appear to be some breaks in the dam on immigration reform, with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Congressman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and others engaged in some preliminary talks. Recently, House Republicans released a white paper stating that they were supportive of a limited “path to legal status” for some illegal immigrants. While this is short of a “path to citizenship” supported by most Democrats and the White House, it is definitely a positive sign and could be the middle ground for a deal.

If immigration reform gets moving, the apartment industry will need to be moving right along with it. For us, a comprehensive piece of immigration legislation could finally put the brakes on all of the state and local proposals that have been swirling around the past several years. Pre-empting what have for the most part been really bad ideas for apartment owners and operators would benefit those operators in these communities as well as members who work in multiple states.

There are other reasons why we need to be engaged on reform. As the “e-verify” employment verification system gets up and running, we need to make sure that it works effectively and that appropriate protections are in place for employers in the event of incorrect information coming out of the system. Finally, if you like to think long-term, we need reform to include a market-driven, realistic standard for how many construction workers will be allowed into the country at any one time. If the number of workers allowed to be here is constrained too much, apartment supply will never keep up with demand and affordability will suffer.

The NAA 2014 Capitol Conference is just around the corner and I hope that you have already registered, made your hotel reservations and are ready to hit Capitol Hill for the apartment industry! We’re shooting for 1,000 attendees this year and are well on our way there. Do your part for the industry and make an investment in advocacy. For more information, go to NAA’s website.

Talk with you next month.
   
Greg   

Greg Brown is NAA’s Senior Vice President of Government Affairs. He joined NAA in the spring of 2010 to lead the expansion of the Government Affairs Department. Greg has been a housing advocate for 15 years, with a strong emphasis in multifamily issues. Tell him what you think about his musings by emailing him.