09/08/14 : David Caughran

What To Expect From Congress This Fall

Congress returns this week from August recess with a number of items on the docket and only a few legislative weeks remaining before both Chambers leave town again for the campaign trail. Work on a Continuing Resolution (CR), funding the government through at least the midterm elections will likely dominate the two-week September session, as lawmakers look to avoid another government shutdown. While many believe that Democrats and Republicans will be able to get through a “clean” CR, without any controversial policy riders, that does not preclude more partisan brinkmanship next year if control of the Senate changes hands in November. Along with hopefully passing a CR to keep the government running, Congress will look to find a way to prevent the Export-Import Bank from closing at the end of the month, and possibly push through a bill barring new taxes on Internet access. Other big ticket items such as tax extenders, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), and the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act, known as the Shaheen-Portman bill, all loom on the horizon as well.

Debate on the Ex-Im Bank reauthorization will pick back up next week, with the Bank’s charter slated to expire at the end of the month. The Ex-Im Bank traditionally provides loan guarantees, loans, and insurance to help companies export U.S. goods. House Financial Services Committee Chairman Hensarling (R-Tex.) and other Tea Party conservatives are opposed to reauthorization, seeing the bank as example of corporate welfare that favors a handful of powerful, politically connected corporations. It is worth noting that a short-term Ex-Im reauthorization bill could potentially be attached as a legislative rider to the CR.

Lame Duck

Following the election, lawmakers will return in mid-November or December for a brief lame duck session to address all unfinished business for the year, which is likely to include appropriations bills, tax extenders, and possibly Shaheen-Portman.  In April, the Senate Finance Committee approved and reported the Expiring Provisions Improvement Reform and Efficiency (EXPIRE) Act, sponsored by Alliance Honorary Vice-Chair Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), which would extend approximately $85 billion in tax breaks for individuals and businesses through 2015. The package, which also includes a dozen tax incentives that spur energy efficiency and the production and use of renewables, was brought to the Senate floor in May, but ultimately failed to reach cloture, with Republicans protesting the exclusion of several hot button amendments. Thus far, the House has taken a more piecemeal approach, with the Ways and Means Committee considering permanent extension of certain tax provisions one-by-one, having already passed one such extension for the Research and Experimentation (R&E) tax credit.  

The outlook for passage of an extenders package and what its final form will look like will largely hinge on the outcome of the upcoming midterm elections. If the Senate remains in Democratic control, we can expect stronger support for Senator Wyden’s EXPIRE Act to serve as the preferred legislative vehicle, meaning better chances for the key clean energy provisions included in that bill, such as extension of the Section 45L credit for construction of energy efficient new homes, the Section 179D tax deduction for energy efficient commercial buildings, the Section 25C credit for energy efficient improvements to existing homes, as well as extension of the highly politicized and polarizing renewable electricity production tax credit (PTC). If the Senate flips, we may see those provisions fall by the wayside in lieu of passing a handful of less controversial business and individual tax extenders such as the R&E credit and bonus depreciation. How these scenarios could play out should become clearer as we edge closer to the lame duck.

Prospects for taking up the Shaheen-Portman bill in the lame duck session remain uncertain given the laundry list of items and the abbreviated time frame. We last saw the bipartisan bill come close to passage early in the summer, yet ultimately fail to receive a vote on the floor due to disagreements over procedures. The passage of the election may ease the bill’s chances; however, the short work period of the lame duck presents a timing challenge. 

The Alliance looks forward to working with leadership in both chambers to advance the EXPIRE Act and Shaheen-Portman as the 113th Congress comes to a close.