Congress returned to work this week after a seven-month marathon, passing the following issues: - The economic stimulus package; - Curbs on abusive credit card practices; - An omnibus bill setting government spending for the current fiscal year; - A budget resolution outlining plans for the next fiscal year; - A supplemental spending bill to fund the Iraq and Afghanistan wars; - Expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program; - An equal pay anti-discrimination bill; - Sweeping tobacco regulations; - Pentagon acquisition reforms; - A public lands package designating more than 2 million acres as protected wilderness; - Expansion of national service programs.
The come back to work with an aggressive agenda, to tackle important issues before they go on their August recess, including:
Energy and Climate Change Legislation The House passed their version in late June. The Senate is planning on debating a bill now before the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee sometime in the fall. Senate Majority Reid has indicated that he will merge the climate-change legislation with the energy legislation that has already been approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Health Care Reform Health Care remains the President's top priority, however, it is not without its challenges. The House is planning on voting on health care reform before their August recess but is running into roadblocks by conservative Democrats. The Senate will debate health care sometime after that but obstacles remain in passing truly comprehensive reform.
Appropriations Congress is about to pass their first set of appropriation bills but, as with most years these days, not all the spending bills will be passed by the start of the next fiscal year -- October 1, 2009.
Transportation The current highway bill expires September 30, 2009, leaving hundreds of transportation projects in jeopardy of completion. The President wants to extend that deadline for 18 months and provide a 'pay-as-you-go' strategy to help jump start some of those projects. With health care reform and climate change still on the table, in addition to all of the appropriation bills that have yet to be passed, the transportation reauthorization will likely get extended into 2010.
Financial Regulation Last month, the President introduced a number of regulations pertaining to the financial industry. Before August, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass), Chair of the House Financial Services Committee, will markup the legislation revamping the financial regulatory system, including a measure that would create a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency. The House is expected to vote on this measure, sometime in the fall.
Food Safety Congress remains interested in tightening inspections and imposing new fees on food safety. This could have an impact on area food banks, schools and speciality food retail shops.
Education The President wants to eliminate the subsidized private student lending program and shift to a direct loan program to help save money. There is also an effort to expand Title IX (the federal law barring discrimination in education on the basis of sex) to help bolster female student's interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Immigration After energy, health care and financial industry reform, the President wants Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform. However, a lack of votes and time will likely push this issue into next year.
The decisions Congress makes has a large impact on how we do business and in how we conduct our lives. Although we face many challenges during this difficult time, now is the time to engage lawmakers and regulatory agencies in a discussion about how your company is affected and what legislative steps you can take to emerge from this economy, stronger, more efficient and ready to expand in the next economy.