Government Affairs Roundup
“Your Timely Roundup of Local, State, and Federal Updates”
Thanks to those that made it out this morning for our final legislative coffee event for 2021. It was a great discussion mainly focused on workforce issues. Nothing was solved unfortunately, but we agreed that we need to keep the discussion going and share as much as possible what is working for those with some success stories. If you have any questions, let me know and I can forward on information or get you in contact with Caroline Portlock and/or her team. Look for three more session in 2022 sponsored by CITGO.
The Senate is in session. Democratic leaders are seeking to pass Mr. Biden’s Build Back Better bill before Christmas. Lawmakers also plan to vote this week, as early as today, on a measure to raise the debt limit, under a bipartisan deal allowing for a simple majority to pass it.
*Government Affairs Roundup brought to you by Silver Cross Hospital*
A Look at this Week
President Biden early this week will lobby Sen. Joe Manchin in an attempt to lock in a deal on a social-policy and climate bill that Democrats hope to finish by Christmas. Passage hinges largely on the support of the centrist West Virginia Democrat, who has repeatedly raised concerns about the roughly $2 trillion bill’s cost and the potential effect of new government spending on inflation.
A CBO analysis released Friday found that the bill’s provisions would add roughly $3 trillion to the deficit over a decade if its provisions were extended indefinitely, rather than on the proposed temporary basis. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) said he asked for the analysis at Mr. Manchin’s request. Democrats have said they would find ways to pay for extensions of programs when they expire—a task as soon as next year.
Lawmakers this week plan to meet with the Senate parliamentarian to determine whether any provisions run afoul of the chamber’s rules for passing a bill through reconciliation, a process that would allow them to pass the bill without GOP support.
Child Tax Credit
Democrats are racing to keep monthly child tax credit deposits flowing to households, using the payments’ potential lapse to build momentum for finishing their roughly $2 trillion education, healthcare and climate bill before December ends, Richard Rubin and Andrew Duehren report.
Unless Congress acts, the monthly payments from the IRS will stop after next week’s deposits, ending a program that has propped up millions of households’ finances since it started in July.
Beyond that, many lawmakers have put the credit at the center of their campaigns for next year’s midterms and are eager to promote it as soon as they can. But the credit extension and the broader Biden agenda are in limbo, as Democrats work through a series of procedural challenges and search for consensus on a final set of unresolved policy questions on the bill.
Democratic worries grow over politics of SALT cap
Democratic concerns are mounting that a tax provision in President Biden’s social spending package that is prized by suburban lawmakers from New York and New Jersey could come back to haunt the party in the midterm elections.
Republicans are increasingly attacking Democrats for rolling back the $10,000 cap on the state and local tax (SALT) deduction, arguing it will largely benefit the rich. A number of Democrats are fearful that the GOP criticisms could resonate with voters in areas outside of large coastal metropolitan areas.
Liberal lawmakers have argued that undoing the cap on the deduction flies in the face of the party’s efforts to present itself as a champion of working families, even as they note provisions throughout the larger bill that would help low-income and middle-class households.
The White House has distanced itself from the issue in another sign of the potentially toxic politics, especially for those Democrats trying to win votes outside expensive suburban communities.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki repeatedly mentioned during Tuesday’s press briefing those changes to the SALT deduction cap were not part of Biden’s original proposal for the social spending package. “He didn’t propose it initially, but we are working to get this bill done,” Psaki said.
Republicans are signaling the issue will be at the center of their efforts to win back House and Senate majorities next fall.
U.S. Jobless Claims Fall to Lowest Level in 52 Years
A strong economic recovery and persistent labor shortage pushed jobless claims to their lowest level in more than half a century last week, just 18 months after the pandemic prompted six million workers to file for unemployment in one week.
First-time claims for unemployment benefits, a proxy for layoffs, fell to 184,000 in the week ended Dec. 4, the lowest level since September 1969, the Labor Department said Thursday. The previous pre-pandemic low of 194,000 was recorded late last month.
Unemployment claims have been steadily falling all year as the labor market has tightened amid a shortage of available workers. While the Omicron variant of Covid-19 represents another threat from the pandemic, economists expect labor market conditions to remain tight. Claims have now fallen below where they were in the year before the pandemic, when they averaged 218,000.
The steady decline in filings is an indication that employers are reluctant to lay off workers as jobs are plentiful, consumer demand is high and the pool of prospective workers remains lower than before the pandemic.
The labor market is unusually tight, with workers in high demand and jobs going unfilled. In October, there were two unemployed workers for every three job openings. The unemployment rate last month fell to 4.2% from 4.6% in October, the Labor Department said last week, but hiring slowed. While almost 600,000 joined the workforce, there are still 2.4 million fewer people in the labor force than before the pandemic hit.
The tight labor market is expected to keep unemployment filings close to their pre-pandemic level, said Nancy Vanden Houten, lead economist at Oxford Economics. Roughly 82.1% of people aged 25 to 54 are either working or looking for work, the Labor Department said. That is a lower level than in February 2020, when it stood at 83.1%.
In October, there were about 3.6 million more job openings than unemployed workers, the Labor Department said. That has prompted employers to look for ways to compete for new workers. Private sector wages rose 4.8% last month from the previous year.
New Legislation to Restore ERTC for Q4
Bipartisan legislation to restore the COVID-related Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC) for October-December 2021 has been introduced. Representatives Carol Miller (R-WV), Stephanie Murphy (D-FL), Terri Sewell (D-AL), and Kevin Hern (R-OK) are leading the “ERTC Reinstatement Act,” allowing struggling small businesses to access up to $7,000 in tax credits for each eligible employee’s wages during the fourth calendar quarter of 2021.
While the ERTC was set to end by January 1, 2022, the “Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act” terminated this credit for the fourth quarter of 2021. Businesses have increasingly relied on ERTC to support employee retention and sustain economic headwinds due to COVID-19. Now, hurting small businesses may face a retroactive tax increase and administrative headaches due to the early, mid-calendar quarter end of ERTC.
Biden says he doesn’t want lockdowns and won’t expand vaccine mandates to fight Covid this winter
President Joe Biden said his plan to fight Covid during the winter months will not include new lockdowns or an expansion of the administration’s current vaccination requirements. “It doesn’t include shutdowns or lockdowns, but widespread vaccinations and boosters and testing a lot more,” Biden told reporters during an update.
“And while my existing federal vaccination requirements are being reviewed by the courts, this plan does not expand or add to those mandates — a plan that all Americans hopefully can rally around, and it should get bipartisan support, in my humble opinion,” the president said.
The administration hopes to increase the number of Americans who have received booster shots by expanding outreach. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will contact the more than 60 million people who are on Medicare, mostly seniors, to remind them to get an additional shot.
The White House is asking businesses with 100 or more employees to voluntarily move forward with the administration’s requirements to get their staff vaccinated or tested weekly by Jan. 4. A federal appellate court put the policy on hold pending review last month, citing constitutional concerns. The administration says it’s on firm legal ground and expects to win the case.
Trucker shortage? It’s a point of debate amid supply chain jam
As Congress seeks solutions to a supply chain crisis that’s leaving shelves empty and consumers frustrated this holiday season, one suggestion keeps recurring: Address the trucker shortage. The American Trucking Associations says there’s a need to fill 80,000 trucker jobs to satisfy America’s demand to move freight. The association asserts that the jobs pay well but there haven’t been enough quality candidates.
That theory stands in stark contrast to the views of an organization representing independent drivers, as well as those of at least four academics who study the industry. They say there isn’t really a shortage at all. High turnover and an inefficient supply chain that often leaves truckers waiting for hours without pay has given an impression of a shortage when what’s really needed is working conditions that retain drivers, they say.
“The driver shortage this year has become a fault line in schisms that were maybe already in the industry,” said David Correll, a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Center for Transportation and Logistics. Correll said he understands that the trucking industry feels there’s a shortage. However, he said, the perceived shortage is “not a headcount shortage … it’s just the people they have are really underutilized.”
At a recent hearing of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Correll testified that U.S. Census data indicates there are 1.8 million heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers in the United States. But they’re underutilized in part because long-haul drivers drive for an average of 6.5 hours every day, he said. The rest of that time, he said, is spent waiting to be loaded and unloaded. If that time driving were increased by 18 minutes a day per driver, he said, it would meet that need. “I think we’re really squandering a lot of that workforce’s time,” he said.
Bob Costello, the trucking associations’ chief economist, said the problem is far more complicated. Demographics — including a shortage of female drivers and an aging workforce, as well as consistent churn in the industry as drivers hop from one company to the next — is contributing to the shortage, Costello said. The pandemic has added to the problem, he said, with fewer truckers entering the workforce because of shuttered licensing agencies and driver training centers.
“I wish it was as simple as all we have to do is keep raising pay and it will go away,” he said. “But the fact of the matter is, there are many different reasons for the shortage.”
Citing the shortage, the ATA successfully fought for a provision in the bipartisan infrastructure law that created a pilot program to allow drivers younger than 21 to be part of apprenticeship programs allowing them to operate in interstate commerce, which was previously against federal regulations. Many economists and analysts pin the perceived shortage on a lack of retention, saying the industry isn’t doing enough to keep drivers.
Illinois Gambling Revenue Tops $1 Billion
Illinois is making headway on rivaling Las Vegas for opportunities to gamble. According to the latest figures from the Illinois Gaming Board, from January through October, Illinois has raked in more than $1 billion in gambling revenue from video gaming, sports wagering and casinos.
Still, it’s a figure less than officials had bet on two-a-half years ago, in June 2019, when a major gambling expansion law authorized six new casinos to be built. Of the six, only one is so far operational: the Hard Rock Casino Rockford opened a temporary location in early November.
State gaming regulators moved forward Wednesday with projects that will put casinos in the suburbs, selecting a winning bid for the casino slated for Waukegan. The 2019 law also allotted a casino to the south suburbs. On Wednesday, members of the gaming board chose a proposal that will build that casino in Homewood and East Hazel Crest, rather than a competing bid which would have put it in Matteson.
Backers of the gambling expansion say that while Illinois has been slow to give casinos a footprint outside the 10 longtime casino sites, the state has been losing tourism and revenue to neighboring states. Opponents say bold predictions of the revenue Illinois will generate through gambling to pay for infrastructure upgrades don’t take into account hidden costs, like gambling addiction.
The city of Chicago has received five bids from potential casino operators. A public hearing on them is scheduled for Dec. 16. The fate of the sixth casino authorized in 2019 remains elusive. Backers of a casino in the east central community of Danville, just across the border from Indiana, are waiting for gaming board approval.
NFIB’s 2021 Small Business Wrap Up: Live Q&A on ERC, PPP, EIDL, Vax Mandates and more!
Wed., Dec. 15, 2021, 12:00 PM ET
Presented by: Elizabeth Milito, Senior Executive Counsel, NFIB Legal Center, Holly Wade, Executive Director, NFIB Research Center
RSVP NOW – https://pages.nfib.com/WBN-2021-12-15-NAT-Coronavirus-Weekly-Briefing-PDEW_LP-Register.html?utm_source=Webinars&utm_campaign=WBN-2021-12-15-NAT-Coronavirus-Weekly-Briefing-PD%7cEW%7c&utm_medium=Email&utm_content=Invite01
Join NFIB’s COVID-19 experts, Beth Milito and Holly Wade, for a LIVE end-of-year Q&A webinar on small business financial programs. The webinar will cover Paycheck Protection Program forgiveness questions, the Economic Injury Disaster Loan status, and Employee Retention Tax Credit basics.
How to retroactively claim the ERC?
What happens if PPP forgiveness is delayed?
How to navigate the EIDL application?
Do small employers need to comply with a vaccine mandate?
What’s on the horizon for small business in 2022?
Vice President – Government Affairs
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry