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Handover of Control Calms House Republicans

 NAA Capitol Conference

One of those characteristics of the United States’ experiment with democracy that we tout as a shining example for the rest of the world is the peaceful transfer of power. The fact that every four (or eight) years a new President takes office via the voting booth and not by the tip of a sword or barrel of a gun is pretty amazing. Similarly impressive was the handover of control of the House Republican caucus (and by extension the House of Representatives itself) last month. Due in large part to the fact that Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) was willing to take the job of Speaker, a potentially divisive vote within the caucus was avoided. He truly was “the one” who could unite the caucus and put a pin in the intraparty squabbling which dominated for the past several months. Now, let’s see how long he can maintain it.

Former Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) – as we speak likely stepping up to a golf tee somewhere in Florida – did Mr. Ryan a big favor by clearing away two of the biggest legislative landmines – the budget and the debt ceiling. Unhampered by reelection concerns or the opinions of the House Freedom Caucus, Mr. Boehner was free to negotiate a deal to take both items off of the table until 2017. This should also be considered a gift to the moderate House Republicans and those in tough reelection campaigns who will not have to take any more perilous votes in this area until after Election Day. The deal drew lots of fire, both on the process, which was not done through “regular order” of the Committees, and on the substance, which dropped the sequestration caps to allow increased domestic and defense spending. Still, it is now law and everyone can grumble but has to move on.

Speaker Ryan is already working to put his own imprint on how the Congress functions by reportedly reaching out to Senate Republican leaders to discuss a joint policy agenda for 2016. Typically at the start of each year the parties in both chambers hold retreats to discuss the plan for the next 12 months. This year there was even a joint retreat of the House and Senate Republicans to try and coordinate activities after the GOP retook the Senate in 2014. Despite declarations of solidarity following the retreat, things devolved quickly. The reality of the differences between the two institutions crept in and House Republicans began calling for the Senate GOP to drop or significantly weaken the 60-vote cloture rule so that Democrats would be unable to block GOP legislation. Speaker Ryan understands the distinct culture and process of the two chambers and reportedly wants to craft a strategy which takes those into account.

Meanwhile, as soon as then-Ways and Means Committee Chairman Ryan announced that he would run for Speaker of the House, jockeying began to replace him. Ultimately Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) was chosen to replace Mr. Ryan. This is good news both for the apartment community and the real estate industry broadly. Chairman Brady has been a long-time friend to the real estate sector and, thanks to the good work of the Houston Apartment Association, he knows and understands apartment housing. Mr. Brady has little time to acclimate to his new role as he will need to immediately begin negotiations on a pending highway funding measure and deal with 52 expiring tax provisions before the end of the year. On a longer time frame is the effort to reform the nation’s tax code which will not occur before 2017 but the foundation for which is being laid now. 

There has been some debate on whether tax reform has as good of a chance of success with Mr. Ryan as Speaker as it did with him as Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. He is an admitted wonk on tax policy and fixing the tax code is a personal mission for him so one would think he will use his position as Speaker to drive the process forward. But, being Speaker is about 100 things, not one thing. Will Mr. Ryan have time to drill down on the details of a reform package while managing the House and the many factions of his own party? Or, will he be able to keep his distance from those details and just focus on keeping the train moving? We will see.

A quick thanks to all of you who responded to our Call to Action on S. 1140, the Federal Water Quality Protection Act. This bill would force the Environmental Protection Agency to rewrite its “Waters of the U.S.” or WOTUS rule. Recall that this rule would greatly expand the federal government’s role in local land use decisions impacting development of all kinds, including apartment housing. Last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit issued a nationwide stay on the rule effectively stopping its enforcement. This is not a permanent solution, however, and a new rule is still needed. Unfortunately, our efforts on S. 1140 were unsuccessful and the bill did not garner the 60 votes needed to proceed to an actual vote on the legislation.  This is not the end of the story, so stay tuned for our next steps on this critical issue.

Finally, mark your calendars for the 2016 NAA Capitol Conference and Lobby Day which take place in March in Washington, D.C. NAA has a new and ambitious goal for next year’s 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 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 next month. Happy Thanksgiving!