I hope this finds all of you healthy, safe and in the midst of happy holiday celebrations with family and friends. By the time you settle in to read my scribblings with a cup of eggnog or other festive beverage, the House and Senate will hopefully have closed the book on the first session of the 114th Congress. They have already successfully passed the first long-term highway bill in a decade and now have only to knock out federal appropriations and tax extenders. No small feat to be sure, but apparently with Paul Ryan now Speaker of the House, the policy world is our oyster.
The final weeks of debate on Federal appropriations spending are a valuable lesson in how large bills get done in our political system. The good news is that the starting premise is that no one – especially Republicans – wants to shut down the government. With that in mind, everyone is willing to negotiate and find the sweet spot on a comprehensive, “omnibus” federal appropriations bill. Republicans want to include policy “riders” to stop several environmental rules promulgated by the Administration as well as toughen vetting standards for Syrian refugees. Democrats want to keep out any anti-Planned Parenthood provisions, fend off anti-immigrant proposals and preserve some of those very same proposed environmental regulations. A rider to stop EPA’s Waters of the United States (WOTUS) proposed rule is in the mix for inclusion in the omnibus. As you know, this rule would be very, very bad for the apartment industry and we have been working with a large coalition of real estate organizations and others to stop it.
In the tax extenders bill, Democrats want extension, expansion and indexing of several refundable tax credits while Republicans want to make some of their favorite business tax provisions permanent. Moreover, Republicans want to end the 40-year-old ban on exports of domestic oil which Democrats are happy to give them in exchange for extending renewable energy tax credits, more funding for conservation and a bigger child tax credit. Depending on the conclusion of the negotiations, the price tag for the final extenders legislation could be north of $500 billion over 10 years as opposed to $85-plus billion for a simple one-year extension of all of the expiring tax provisions. As I have reported to you before, there are several extenders in play that are of great interest to the apartment industry. These have to do with expensing, energy efficiency benefits and affordable housing. All look to be in good shape for inclusion in the final package, though the jury is still out on what the term of that extension will be.
The issues of gun violence, mental health screening and stricter controls on gun ownership was put back in front of lawmakers by the recent terrorist acts in San Bernardino, California. Though there has been and will continue to be rigorous debate in Congress, it does not appear that any new legislation will be considered before adjournment. There is relevancy to the apartment industry here as owners and operators grapple with how to handle conceal carry, open carry and other laws that allow individuals to possess and carry firearms on their person in public. National firms and local independent owners alike are attempting to strike a balance between respect for legal rights and the safety of their residents. Because Congress is very unlikely to pass any national standards in this area, owners with property across municipal and state boundaries will have to comply with myriad different rules. A while back, NAA did an in-depth feature in Units magazine on guns in apartment communities that you may want to revisit to stay abreast of this issue.
Remember to mark your calendars for the 2016 NAA Capitol Conference and Lobby Day which will take place in March in Washington, D.C. NAA has a new and ambitious goal for the event. We’re going to reach every one of the 535 Congressional offices – that’s 435 Representatives and 100 Senators – on Lobby Day on March 9. The Capitol Conference will be held the day before, starting right after lunch with an issues orientation and advocacy training followed by keynote speaker Joe Scarborough, a former member of the House and host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe. While members of the House will be in recess the week of March 7, NAA members can schedule meetings with their important key staff members in Washington and just as importantly schedule meetings with all 100 members of the U.S. Senate, which will be in session. NAA members who aren’t planning to attend the Capitol Conference will help us reach our goal by scheduling meetings or property tours at home with their Representatives that week.
Using our grassroots power is critical to our advocacy efforts on your behalf. Help us help you by coming to Washington and helping to carry our message to Congress.
Talk to you in the new year.