September Legislative Preview – Hurricane Season for Congress Too


Congress returned to Washington, DC on September 5 for a fall sprint that is chock-full of must-pass legislation, some by the end of this month and others before the end of the year.

On September 6, President Trump and Democratic leaders in Congress struck a short-term deal to relieve the growing pressure of approving a down-payment Hurricane Harvey relief, along with temporarily extending the federal debt ceiling limit and funding for the federal government before the end of September. Under the agreement, the debt limit and federal government funding will be extended until December 8 – guaranteeing that Congress will be in session through December. Congress is expected to vote on this agreement today and President Trump is expected to sign it as soon as it reaches his desk.

This short-term deal will give Congress time to work out longer-term solutions to fund the government beyond December 8, to finalize a new federal debt ceiling limit into 2018 or beyond, and to pass more long-term disaster relief for victims of Hurricane Harvey (and likely Hurricane Irma, which is bearing down on Florida as we go to print). While each of these measures on their own would be a monumental lift to complete for any Congress, together they could become a perfect recipe for a Category 5 legislative storm come December on Capitol Hill. The failure to pass any of these measures could unnerve financial markets, damage any economic gains made during the first year of the Trump presidency and add to the intense dysfunction currently gripping Washington.

While Congress threads this fiscal needle over the coming weeks and months, it still needs to address in the short-term a series of reauthorization bills for the Federal Aviation Administration, the Department of Defense, the Children's Health Insurance Program, as well as a reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program – all scheduled to expire on September 30.  In addition, efforts are underway in the Senate to craft some form of bipartisan Affordable Care Act (ACA) fix that could temporarily stabilize the individual health care insurance marketplace. It is likely that a bipartisan proposal will include a provision to delay or adjust the employer mandate penalty, among other provisions. SHRM will continue to advocate in support of the employer-sponsored system as lawmakers work towards such a proposal. If a bipartisan effort is reached, it will still have a long road to hoe just garnering support in the Senate, let alone make its way through the House and onto the president's desk for his signature.  

Now that the pressure of the debt ceiling and government funding has been temporarily alleviated, Congress will also attempt to pivot to the issue of tax reform – a key priority for President Trump and GOP lawmakers. After failing to repeal and replace the ACA, House and Senate Republicans, along with the White House are eager to move forward on this policy priority. It is unclear if comprehensive tax reform will be achieved anytime soon, but House and Senate committees of jurisdiction on tax policy are moving forward on relevant hearings in the coming weeks.

If that sounds like a lot to grapple with in a short amount of time, it is.  But as then-NASA Flight Director Gene Kranz famously remarked when responding to the Apollo 13 mishap back in 1970 that threatened the lives of three astronauts who were hurtling to the moon, "Failure is not an option." Time will tell whether Congress and the President can find long-term solutions to the litany of maladies awaiting action before December, but SHRM will keep you informed about is being discussed and what it all means for HR professionals.



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