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Capitol Update: After the Holidays, Action Resumes on Capitol Hill

Happy New Year Apartment Industry Colleagues,

It is quiet in the nation’s capital for the moment, but action resumes shortly as both houses of Congress return to work from their holiday recess. The President will make his annual and constitutionally required State of the Union Speech on January 28. As for what the President might say in his speech, we can safely assume he will want to say something positive about the re-direction of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) launch. And, in trying to move past the health care law debacle, he will turn the focus to other high priority issues such as immigration reform and gun control. This speech gives the President the opportunity to set the table for his agenda for the year, while the Republican response will of course challenge everything the President sets down.

Predictions about what will take place in 2014 have changed a lot since the days immediately following the government shutdown in October -- in what has to be one of the greatest turnarounds since Claus Von Bulow beat the rap in 1984. Immediately following the ill-advised game of chicken with the President, the GOP’s brand was in bad shape; irreparably harmed, some said. But then came the rollout of the Affordable Care Act and in the span of two months, the public had forgotten all about the shutdown. A recent poll illustrates this reversal of fortune. According to the CNN/ORC International poll, when voters were asked who they would vote for generically, Republicans or Democrats, the GOP had the lead of 49 to 44 percent. The same poll taken after the shutdown had Democrats ahead 50 to 42 percent.

To maintain this advantage going into the fall 2014 elections, Republicans have to keep the focus on the ACA and not let other potentially nettlesome distractions get in the way. Exhibit A of this strategy is the surprisingly easy passage of the budget deal brokered by Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), House Republican Budget Committee Chairman and Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Senate Democrat Budget Committee Chair. While the usual conservative third-party groups howled, no one listened and the bill passed overwhelmingly in the House and Senate with plenty of Republican support. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) knows that another shut down would cede back to the President and Democrats all that has been won, thanks to the ACA rollout.

This dynamic also presents some challenges to apartment industry priorities such as immigration reform. While many inside and outside of the GOP believe there is much to be gained by passage of some kind of comprehensive reform, the issue is not without its pitfalls. Immigration reform creates awkwardness for many Republicans in the House and Senate who might want to put the issue to bed and in the process win over some in the single largest emerging voting bloc in the country. But they have real and justified fear of the wrath of well-funded third-party conservative groups opposed to immigration reform which often give rise to primary challenges.

Still, we crack on despite these environmental challenges because (1) we have to, (2) the groundwork laid today becomes the text of laws tomorrow, and (3) there is a 50/50 chance that the pieces on the chess board in the House and Senate will stay as they are today. That means legislative proposals can literally be carried over to the new Congress in 2015. The odds that the House changes hands and the Democrats take over are very weak. While the Senate Republicans have their best chance in some time to retake control of the Senate, they have proven in the past to be adept at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory -- not to mention the fact that several of their own incumbents have primary challenges to worry about. In short, as dawn breaks on 2015, we could very well be looking at the same division of power we have today.

With that in mind, let me finish with a plug for the NAA Capitol Conference coming up in March. One of the chief goals this year for 2014 NAA Chairman of the Board Brad Williams is to significantly increase NAA’s advocacy power and presence. There are innumerable legislative and regulatory issues faced by our industry – fair housing disparate impact, the future of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, taxes and many, many more. We are only able to respond effectively to these challenges if we can show a vibrant and engaged body of grassroots advocates. The NAA Capitol Conference is the single most visible way of proving our grassroots strength to Congress.

To make it an even easier decision for you to make, we’ve reshaped the Conference schedule to make it most efficient for our attendees and accommodate those with different time and budget restraints. The NAA Capitol Conference will be held on March 11 in Washington, D.C., followed by Lobby Day on Capitol Hill on March 12 while the spring Board of Directors and committee meetings precede the conference on March 9 and 10. You can attend both or just the Capitol Conference. We will also have a great slate of keynote speakers, advocacy education sessions and a new luncheon event with members of Congress on Lobby Day that will be open to all participants.

You can get all of the information on the schedule, programming, special events and speakers at the NAA Capitol Conference website.  This is a once-a-year opportunity and a smart investment of capital in the apartment industry and your business. I urge you to take part.

Talk with you next month.


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.