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Capitol Update: Congress Goes Home for the Holidays (and so Does the Rest of D.C.)

Dear Apartment Industry Colleagues,

The end is nigh!
No, it’s not the opening to the latest apocalyptic zombie thriller (though I do enjoy those), I’m referring to the end of the first session of the 113th Congress. For the first time in many years, Congress will go and stay gone from Washington, D.C., for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. “Huzzah!” says every lobbyist, Hill staffer and political reporter in town. These denizens of the political machine have seen their holiday plans in years past scuttled altogether or spent nervously checking a mobile device every three and a half minutes for some development on the latest “cliff” or other year-end legislative debacle. Not this year! Still, Congress would not know what to do without a looming deadline and there are legislative items in the mix that are on the clock.

Got milk?
The farm bill is the piece of legislation that used to be – like so many things – a bipartisan exercise that would be dispensed with in short order. Alas, that did not occur on the most recent reauthorization as a fight broke out over the inclusion of funding for Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (food stamps) in the bill. Conservatives in the House vehemently oppose this program and want either significant cuts to it or elimination from the farm bill altogether. If no deal is made before Dec. 31, the federal government will have to revert to 1949 policy which would almost immediately double the price of milk. As this column when to print negotiators continued to work and remained optimistic that an agreement would be reached.

Let’s make a deal.
Dec. 13 is the deadline for the House and the Senate to deliver a deal on the federal budget and sequester cuts, as established by the agreement that reopened the government in October and averted a debt default. Expectations were low as House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) started their conversations. Those attitudes have changed, however, as several positive signs have been noted in recent weeks. White smoke these are not, but positive indicators nonetheless.

Should the negotiations pay off, anticipated sequester cuts could be softened or averted altogether. Entering the second year of sequestration these cuts only get deeper and impact more programs and individuals. We’ve already seen struggles on the part of local Public Housing Authorities to maintain funding and access to Section 8 housing vouchers. A second round of these blunt cuts will only worsen that situation.

Tax reform makes strange bedfellows.
Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) are chairmen of the respective tax-writing committees in the Senate and House. They have toiled away for a year in setting the table for tax reform. They are working against both a calendar and election clock not to mention the horde of interest groups who stand out their doors quivering at the thought of their ox being gored through tax reform. As well, both face a clock on their tenure as leaders of tax-writing in the Congress which runs out at the end of 2014. All of this pressure has actually made the two men tighter compatriots in the cause of tax reform.

Baucus recently put out several “discussion drafts” on reform proposals for several sections of the tax code, including some impacting real estate. They were not met with raucous applause by many in business as there would be winners and losers if they were implemented (we certainly have several concerns). Many in the House GOP are also nonplussed with the discussion drafts. But despite the gnashing of teeth among his colleagues and some in the business community, Camp continues to support the process and the fact that Senator Baucus has started the conversation. Camp is committed to reform and at least for now that means standing fast with Baucus to press forward on that effort. This is a rare example of bipartisanship and big picture thinking in an arguably “small ball” political environment.

Not your 2013 Capitol Conference.
We are a mere three months away from the 2014 NAA Capitol Conference and big changes are afoot. Most importantly, the schedule has been compacted to allow you to only attend what you want – only NAA governance activities, only advocacy activities or only the issues briefing and Lobby Day -- but don’t let that stop you from attending all of them! This is a big change from previous years that should save time and money for conference participants. There will also be new events, higher profile speakers and more training for new attendees in lobbying their members of Congress.

If you still need more reasons to go, I’ll give you two:

  1. If you don’t educate Congress on what to do when it comes to issues impacting the apartment industry, they might make the wrong choice. That would be bad. Come to the NAA Capitol Conference and help Congress make good choices.
  2. You might know a lot about advocacy, but we can help you know more. The NAA Capitol Conference schedule is packed with educational sessions, expert speakers on policy and politics, a briefing on the issues for Lobby Day and more. That pays off for you not only in federal advocacy efforts, but local and state issues too.

Helping Congress make good choices and getting smarter on advocacy. Great reasons to come to the NAA Capitol Conference! Registration is now open and available along with highlights of the conference program. More information is coming soon. Be a part of the team from your community to make the apartment industry’s voice heard!

That is it for this month. As always, send me a note with questions, quips or disquiet about what I have written here. Thanks!


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.