September 2009: Government Affairs


September 2009
Government Affairs

Congressional Update

Throughout the month of August, Congressional members hosted “town hall” events to discuss the pending healthcare legislation. With the final committee in the House, the Committee on Energy & Commerce, approving its version of the legislation, the House is expected to take up the bill on the House floor in mid-September. It is still unknown as we go to press what the final version of the legislation will look like, and what its impacts on small businesses will be.

Prior to the Congressional summer recess, one of the MCAA’s members, Beverly McCauley, of Fairfax, Va., who works for a family-owned construction company, participated in a small business roundtable hosted by House Republican leaders. This group included Republican Whip Eric Cantor, Republican Leader John Boehner, and Small Business Committee Ranking Member Sam Graves, among others, who examined the various burdens on small businesses in H.R. 3200, America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009.

The roundtable presented various small businesses with an opportunity to share their thoughts on some of the bill’s provisions and what impact it may have on their operations. Among the chief concerns was that the bill, as currently drafted, would force them to cut back on employees, increase their costs, and enact additional burdensome taxes.

Beverly McCauley (MCAA) said that her firm now pays about $300,000 for employee healthcare and that roughly 40 percent of her workforce participates in the employer-sponsored coverage. She also stated that some of those employees who do not enroll in the healthcare plan are sending their money overseas. She voiced concern that if her small business is burdened, it will have consequences on her suppliers as well, further exacerbating the current economic crisis.

The House Committee on Ways and Means was responsible for drafting the tax provisions of the bill, and the Committee approved a tax on adjusted gross income for individuals making more than $280,000 and married couples making more than $350,000, rising to a top rate of 5.4 percent for individuals making more than $800,000 and married couples making more than $1 million. Prior to final consideration of the bill, discussions continue about raising this threshold and providing a trigger for when the surtax kicks in.

House Republicans are seeking discussions with so-called “Blue Dog” Democrats, who tend to be more fiscally conservative and are focused on the overall cost of the bill. It is unknown at this time whether this large group of Democrats will work with Republicans to alter the bill, or even be able to offer amendments.

The process is moving slower in the Senate, where the Senate Committee on Finance has yet to provide their draft legislation, and doesn’t intend to do so before mid-September. The Senate then must meld the Finance Committee version with the provisions passed by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) before it considers a bill on the floor.

Given the shortage of time before Congress is targeted to adjourn in early-October, quick work will need to be made if Congress is to pass healthcare legislation. Congress also must pass the annual appropriations bills, which provide funding for all government programs. These programs expire on September 30. The Senate also is considering whether to contend with a “climate change” bill.

Matthew B. Keelen, CEO and president of The Keelen Group, and Michael J. Falencki, COO and VP of policy, operate a government relations/lobbying, consulting and strategic services practice in Washington, D.C.

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