2017: A Look Back at MCAA in Washington D.C.
Stephen A. Borg
It was not that long ago, that I wrote a column for this space giving an update on the beginning of 2017. Fast forward just a fewshort months and the time in between that article and the New Year seems to have been a year within itself in Washington, D.C. I honestly wish I had one more month to write this article as groundbreaking massive news and rumors are being unleashed faster than the Grinch’s transformation from evildoer to chief Christmas celebrant. As I type this article new rumors are flying around about what Member of Congress will be exposed for sexual harassment next, the House and Senate are fully engaged in wrapping up final text on a massive tax package, and the White House is beginning to talk up that they will soon release their long awaited infrastructure investment package in January. And while all of this is shaping up to make 2017 a year unlike any other, it was also an amazing year for the Mason Contractors Association of America in Washington, D.C. as well.
Over the past 6 and ½ years since I have been working with the Mason Contractors Association of America, we have seen massive growth, not only in the number of Members (which skyrocketed in 2017), but also in the amount of power our voice holds and the sway we have in Washington, D.C. This is a direct result of our willingness to not only engage in Washington, D.C. during such events as our annual Legislative Conference or “Fly-In”, but your willingness to passionately get engaged and make your voices heard with Members of Congress when you are back home as well. The MCAA has been engaged with Congress and the Administration on issues such as workforce development, the OSHA silica rule, misclassification of employees, tax reform and the repeal of the estate tax, and in opposition to the Timber Innovation Act. And in this year in particular, we have sent out numerous calls to action on the silica regulation and you have responded quickly, passionately, and endlessly with calls, emails, and letters to your Members of Congress. It is action like this that resulted in me receiving many calls from Members of Congress or their staff asking me for our perspective or background on issues such as silica; calls that ultimately resulted in the Member of Congress weighing in with the White House, Department and Labor, and Congressional Leadership asking for the silica rule to be blocked or reformed. While I am on the topic, let me take this time to provide you with a brief background on where that rule stands.
As you may recall, after many years trying to craft a new regulation related to the exposure to crystalline silica, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) within the U.S. Department of Labor released a new rule in August of 2013. While the rule is broad and quite confusing to say the least, some of the highlights are below:
OSHA’s Proposed Rulemaking Includes:
- A significant reduction of the PEL level (when control measures must be taken) down to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air across all industries.
- The introduction of a new “action level”(where constant monitoring must begin) of 25 micrograms per cubic meter of air.
- Detailed requirements to use dust controls for specific construction operations.
- A requirement to provide respirators to workers when dust controls prove ineffective.
- The introduction of “regulated areas” where exposures may be above the PEL and worker access to these areas is controlled.
- Training requirements for workers covering operations that result in silica exposure and ways to limit exposure.
- A requirement to provide medical exams for workers and maintain their records for 30+ years.
As a reminder, due to the fact that MCAA and many other associations representing members of the construction industry found this rule to be both technologically and economically infeasible we joined together to form the Construction Industry Safety Coalition (CISC). MCAA, both individually and as a member of the Steering Committee of the CISC, has been making our voices heard on this issue for many years and due to the change in Administration took the fight to another level as our hope was that this rule would be repealed by the incoming Trump Administration. Long story short, after having their first nominee for the Secretary of Labor withdraw due to personal controversy, the Administration nominated and the Senate confirmed Secretary Alexander Acosta in late April 2017. While other regulations were being blocked by Congress or repealed by the incoming Administration, for some reason the OSHA silica rule was still moving forward to becoming final and ultimately being enforced. As a result, as we continued to take our concerns to the White House and Capitol Hill, MCAA also began to implement a “Train the Trainer” program so our members would be as prepared as possible for when this rule went into effect.
At the same time, the CISC prepared and ultimately filed a lawsuit against OSHA on the rule. This lawsuit was ultimately combined with the numerous other lawsuits filed throughout various jurisdictions in the country (including lawsuits arguing that the rule did not go far enough) and was put under the jurisdiction of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. On September 26, 2017, the 3 judge panel on the Court of Appeals heard oral arguments from our CISC attorney and attorneys from the various other groups involved in the combined lawsuit. While we were encouraged by the arguments raised by our attorney, we remain stuck in somewhat of a holding pattern right now as while we expect the court to rule sometime in mid-2018, they could ultimately rule any day between now and then. Add to the mix that the Department of Labor began to enforce the new rule for the construction industry on September 23, 2017. With that being said, I would suggest that if you have not contacted the Mason Contractors Association of America to answer your questions on this rule and what is expected of you on your job sites please do not hesitate to ensure you understand how the new regulation might impact you. As a result of this uncertainty, we continue to stay in constant contact with Members of Congress on this rule and remain hopeful that they can interject should the court rule that the new regulation should stay as currently written. Unfortunately, one of the most useful tools in the Congressional toolbox to block rules is the annual federal appropriations process, a process that has not worked in many, many years. Congress is currently in the midst of trying to cobble together an end of the year funding bill that would fund the federal government through the end of the current fiscal year (September 2018) after not being able to finish the process on time earlier in 2017 and having to pass “continuing resolutions” that make no changes to the previous funding allocations and policies. With days to go until Congress leaves town before the end of 2017, my best guess would be that we see another “continuing resolution” into 2018 and another opportunity for blocking the silica rule being pushed off again as well.
While Congressional attempts at “repealing and replacing” Obamacare ultimately failed, the appropriations process continues to be bogged down and kicked down the road through “continuing resolutions” Congressional action that is likely to be wrapped up in between the time I finish this article and it is put into print is Republicans attempt to reform and cut tax rates in a broad tax package we haven’t seen the likes of in decades. As you may recall, at the beginning of 2017, President-Elect Trump and the new Republican majorities in the House and Senate promised to quickly repeal Obamacare, pass a massive infrastructure investment package, and reform and simplify the tax code. After ultimately being unable to put together a healthcare package that would repeal Obamacare and be able to pass both Houses of Congress, the House moved to pass a massive tax package, which has ultimately turned into a massive reform and reduction of the tax on corporations and businesses. After the House action, the Senate quickly (relatively for the Senate) worked to craft and pass their own version of the bill that could pass under a procedure called budget reconciliation that allows for a simple majority for passage rather than the normal 60 vote threshold most Senate bills need to proceed. This was an important tool for the Republicans in the Senate as they hold a slim majority in the Senate and would need 8 Democrats to join them in voting for the package under normal Rules. Ultimately the Senate succeeded in passing their own version of a tax bill and they quickly got to work in debating with the House what details would be included in a final compromise version. While both bills were massive and had many aspects, let me take this time to highlight some of the biggest provisions of both bills:
- Estate Tax – the House bill would double the current Estate Tax exemption to $11.2 million and then ultimately repeal the estate tax in 2024. The Senate bill would simply double the exemption to $11.2 million but would not repeal the tax.
- Corporate Rate – both the House and Senate bills would lower the Corporate tax rate to 20%. Early discussions that have leaked have shown that the final rate may inch up to 22% in the final bill.
- Individual Business Rates – both House and Senate bills address “pass-through” entities and this is one of the biggest sticking points in early discussions. The House bill would drop the current top pass-through rate of 39.6% to 25%, while the Senate bill would create a new 23% deduction for pass-through income.
- Individual Rates – Both the House and Senate bills lower tax rates on individuals however the Senate bill would allow those lower rates to expire in 2025.
So while Congress tries to quickly pass their first and only major piece of legislation of 2017 and lower tax rates for many corporations and individuals, lets take this time to be grateful for a great year for our industry and Association. We have a lot to be proud of and as an Association we are sitting in prime position to not only further grow our Association, but your businesses as well. If the recent scandals on Capitol Hill (and I am hearing many more names will drop in the near future) don’t throw major wrenches into legislative plans, 2018 looks to hold many opportunities for the MCAA to once again raise its voice and make an impact in the Halls of Congress and the Administration. Infrastructure investments, immigration reform, and workforce development will sure to remain hot issues next year and I look forward to working with you to ensure our collective voice is heard in these debates.
As we ring in the New Year in Las Vegas for our annual MCAA Convention at the World of Concrete/World of Masonry lets not rest on our laurels, but rather get fired up for another record-breaking year of new MCAA Members, record breaking numbers of PAC contributions, and many new faces registering for our annual Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C. If you have any questions on our Government Affairs program or how the issues raised above will impact you and your business please take the time to reach out to MCAA. Remember the voice of mason contractors can only be strong when we have educated, passionate, and involved members and we need you to continue to make our voice heard in Washington, D.C.