114th Congress

Republicans Take the Reins of Power on Capitol Hill

Jan 9, 2015
The new Republican-controlled 114th Congress convened in Washington, D.C., this week. Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) was re-elected to run the House chamber for the third straight term and former Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was sworn in as the body’s Majority Leader for the next two years. Seventy-one new lawmakers in all were sworn into office this Congress – 13 senators and 58 representatives – providing an opportunity for fresh faces to make an impact on key legislative issues, including workplace policies.

Paul Ryan (R-WI) is among returning lawmakers who will serve as key committee chairs this Congress; he will take the reins of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, alongside of Sander Levin (D-MI), who will remain as the panel’s ranking member. Other key House committee leaders of relevance to the HR field include John Kline (R-MN), who will return as chair of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, with Bobby Scott (D-VA) as its ranking member; Robert Goodlatte (R-VA) will remain as chair of the Judiciary Committee, who again will be joined by John Conyers (D-MI) as ranking member.

Over in the Senate, as Senator McConnell moved to the role of Majority Leader, former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will now serve as Minority Leader. Key Senate committee leaders of relevance to the HR profession include Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) as chairman and ranking member of the Finance Committee; Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA) as chair and ranking member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee; and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) as chairman and ranking member of the Judiciary Committee.

Lawmakers in the House of Representatives set the tone for a busy legislative session by taking immediate action on a variety of bills relevant to the HR profession. Most notably, on January 8, by a vote of 252 to 172, the House passed the SHRM-supported “Save American Workers Act of 2015” (H.R. 30), introduced by Representatives Todd Young (R-IN) and Daniel Lipinski (D-IL). SHRM members sent over 2,100 letters to their respective U.S. House members advocating in support of this bipartisan legislation amending the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) definition of a “full-time” employee.

Specifically, H.R. 30 would amend the Internal Revenue Code to redefine the term “full-time employee” as an employee who is employed, on average, for at least 40 hours of service per week. Under the ACA, employers with 50 or more full-time employees are required to provide health care coverage to their employees or pay a penalty. The ACA defines a full-time employee as one that works at least 30 hours of service a week. H.R. 30 will now move to the Senate for consideration. Meanwhile, Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Joe Donnelly (D-IN) have introduced a similar proposal to amend the ACA’s definition of full-time, the “Forty Hours is Full Time Act” (S. 30).

While it is still very early in the legislative year, we anticipate that this Congress will consider a variety of proposals of relevance to the workplace, including proposals on tax reform and legislative actions to nullify the recent National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) representation election rule, also known as the “ambush” election rule. The NLRB rule speeds up the union election process at the expense of employees and employers left with insufficient time to hold a free and informed election.

In the meantime, the Administration is also gearing up to advance its priorities for the next year. President Barack Obama’s State of the Union (SOTU) address will take place on January 20. In anticipation of the SOTU speech, the president has embarked on a trip across the country to promote new executive actions and legislative policy proposals that impact higher education (Tennessee), housing (Arizona) and jobs (Michigan).

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