The 115th Congress is Off and Running!

Chatrane Birbal By Chatrane Birbal January 13, 2017
The 115th Congress is Off and Running!

The 115th Congress officially convened on January 3, hitting the ground running on what is shaping up to be one of the most ambitious workplace legislative agendas in decades. Welcoming 60 new members, this Congress boasts the most racially diverse freshman class in history. Republicans retain control of both chambers on Capitol Hill, holding majorities of 241 to 194 in the House of Representatives and 52 to 48 in the Senate.  Below is a quick recap of what has transpired since January 3.  

On its first day of business, the GOP caucus of the House of Representatives voted nearly unanimously to re-elect Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) to another term as Speaker. (Ryan received 239 of the 241 possible Republican votes).  SHRM and its affiliate, the Council for Global Immigration sent a congratulatory letter to Speaker Ryan and urged that the 115th Congress consider public policy options that will create an innovative, fair, and competitive 21st century workforce. This includes advancing legislative proposals that will improve and strengthen employer-provided health care to benefit both employers and employees, especially as Congress gets ready to consider Affordable Care Act (ACA) repeal and replacement efforts.

Once Congress settled in, the first major order of legislative business conducted included consideration and passage of the fiscal 2017 budget resolution (S Con Res 3). The budget resolution is the first step in a long effort to develop and pass a fiscal year budget for the federal government. While requiring the approval of both houses of Congress, the resolution does not require presidential signature. It serves as the budgetary framework for the current fiscal year, while in this instance including tax and spending reconciliation instructions for the key committees within each chamber of Congress in establishing the budgetary spending levels for the next decade. In addition to holding numerous confirmation hearings on President-elect Donald J. Trump's nominees to head the various agencies throughout the Washington bureaucracy, the Senate spent its first two weeks in action debating the measure. Democratic senators offered over 100 amendments, many of which were designed to derail and delay the Republicans number one priority – repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. .) Ultimately, the Senate chamber passed the budget resolution on Thursday, January 12 by a vote of 51 to 48. Following the Senate's vote, the House Chamber voted on Friday, January 13 by a vote of 227 to 198 to pass the resolution.

The four committees of jurisdiction— House Ways and Means; House Energy and Commerce; Senate Finance; and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions will now begin drafting budget and tax reconciliation legislation, which will include specific legislative provisions to repeal the tax provisions of the ACA. The budget resolution as passed by Congress sets a reconciliation bill drafting deadline of January 27 in which each committee must pass its provisions which make-up the larger reconciliation bill. By using the budget reconciliation process, the Senate will be able to pass repeal of the ACA provisions dealing with tax and spending with a simple majority of 51 votes instead of the 60 votes needed to override of certain Democratic filibuster of the bill in an effort to block its approval. Tax elements of the ACA that will likely be considered in the reconciliation process include the individual and employer mandates for health care coverage, the excise tax on high value health care plans, the medical device tax and the health insurance tax.  SHRM sent a letter to the U.S. House of Representatives, urging that reconciliation legislation must strengthen the employer-based health care system.

Following President Donald Trump's inauguration on Jan. 20, House GOP leaders will meet in Philadelphia for their retreat to discuss legislative priorities for the year, including the details of an ACA replacement plan. 

Meanwhile, SHRM-supported bipartisan legislative proposals in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate have been introduced to repeal the ACA 40 percent excise tax. The 40 percent excise tax on employer-sponsored health coverage above certain thresholds ($10,200 for individual coverage and $27,500 for family coverage), is set to take effect in 2020.  In the House, Representatives Mike Kelly (R-PA03) and Joe Courtney (D-CT2) introduced, the Middle Class Health Benefits Tax Repeal Act (H.R. 173) and Senators Dean Heller (R-NV) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) introduced companion legislation, S.58. 

SHRM has long-advocated for the repeal of the ACA excise tax and sent letters of support to the bills' sponsors. Furthermore, as Congress considers repeal and replacement efforts of the ACA, SHRM will continue to urge lawmakers to protect and preserve the employer-sponsored system.  We believe effective health care reform should expand access to affordable coverage and build on the current employer-sponsored system, which provides health care coverage to over 170 million Americans. 

As with the start of every new Congress and administration, SHRM looks forward to working with incoming President-elect Donald Trump, members of his administration and the 115th Congress in advancing the interests of the HR community and effective workplace policies. Stay tuned for continuous updates and developments on legislative and regulatory proposals of relevance to the HR profession.   


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