Congressional Priorities for Business

U.S. Chamber of Commerce

 

Transportation Reauthorization

America’s transportation system is badly in need of investment. But how do we pay for it? The simplest, most effective short-term solution is to increase the gas tax, which hasn’t been raised since 1993, even as people drive less and cars become more fuel efficient. And what better time for a small, phased-in increase than when gas prices are tumbling at the pump? It’s a good investment for America, its citizens, and its businesses.

But Americans have every right to insist that any increase comes with guarantees that the money will be spent for its intended purposes, spent wisely on genuine priority projects, and will result in an improvement to our quality of life. Taxpayers shouldn’t have to bear the entire burden—we need to remove barriers that prevent us from leveraging up to $250 billion in private capital for transportation projects.

Adequate funding is only one of the Chamber’s transportation priorities. We also support:

Our transportation system is a tremendous national asset we’ve built up over generations. It has fueled economic growth, enhanced our competitiveness, and created a lot of good jobs. If well-maintained, it can continue to deliver outstanding benefits to all Americans.

Trade Promotion Authority (TPA)

U.S. economic growth and job creation depend on our ability sell American goods and services to the 95% of the world’s customers living outside our borders. Yet there are restrictions and tariffs, often in the double digits, that severely inhibit U.S. companies and workers operating in a global economy. We can level the playing field via trade agreements, and Congress recently solidified the U.S.’s commitment to expanding markets by approving Trade Promotion Authority (TPA).

TPA requires the President and Congress to work together on trade agreements, enabling the President to negotiate on terms set by Congress. Without TPA, the U.S. may have been shut out of two upcoming free trade agreements – the Trans-Pacific Partnership (nearing final stages of completion) and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (currently in negotiation stage).

Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP)

Too often, U.S. companies are forced to compete with one hand tied behind their back in the Asia-Pacific region. High tariffs, non-tariff barriers, and other measures at times deny a level playing field for U.S.-made products and services. Further, a web of more than 140 trade agreements has spread across the region, providing advantages for participating nations, while the U.S. is often stuck on the outside, looking in.

If the goal of eliminating these barriers and establishing high standards for the region is met, the TPP could prove to be a game changer for American workers, farmers, and companies. The U.S. business and agricultural communities agree we must tear down the barriers that shut out U.S. goods and services and put fairness and accountability at the fore in our trade relations with this vital region.

The U.S. Chamber appreciates the efforts by U.S. negotiators and those of other participating nations to conclude the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations.

While a high-standard trade agreement covering nearly 40% of the world economy is a worthy goal that enjoys our full support, we reserve judgment on the agreement pending review of the final text with our members.

Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)

The sheer volume of U.S.-EU commerce is so large that eliminating today’s relatively modest trade barriers could bring big benefits, adding a combined $300 billion to the transatlantic economy annually.

The Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations should eliminate tariffs; open up services, investment, and procurement markets; and promote regulatory cooperation to ensure high levels of health, safety, and environmental protection while cutting unnecessary costs. The TTIP negotiators must conclude a high-standard agreement that is comprehensive and ambitious.

Department of Labor Fiduciary Rule Proposal

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) is working toward expanding what is considered fiduciary investment advice under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). The DOL’s proposal will have a disproportionate impact on low and moderate income Americans saving for retirement—especially employees of small businesses who save using an IRA. This will substantially reduce retirement savings for many Americans.

More specifically,

    1. The proposal will result in less advice and fewer choices for American savers — especially small businesses and their employees. That’s because an advisor marketing to a large retirement plan (one with 100 plan participants or more) is not considered a fiduciary under the rule, but an advisor marketing to a small plan is considered a fiduciary. Being a fiduciary creates new limitations on what types of communications are considered “investment advice” subject to regulation, which means advisors to small businesses will incur additional costs, which could in turn make their services cost prohibitive to small businesses.
    2. The rule restricts investment education, when it should be preserved and expanded. Under current rules, an advisor can help someone select specific investments within a plan to invest funds, but under the new proposal, an advisor can only provide a so-called model asset allocation to an investor based on age, retirement goals, and risk tolerance. This leaves investors to do their own research and try to connect the dots themselves.
    3. Investors are required to sign a contract before an advisor can even talk to them. Such a requirement runs contrary to other professions that provide advice such as doctors, lawyers or accountants. This will likely scare away many investors who will ultimately choose not to meet with experts or save for retirement.
    4. The rule creates complex, costly, and in some cases contradictory disclosures that may be impossible to comply with. An exemption in the rule, for example, requires advisors to provide extensive and complex disclosures on their websites, as well as provide disclosures that project fees on a 1-, 5-, and 10-year basis. This would require advisors to make predictions on future performance that is contrary to federal securities law and misleading to investors.
    5. The rule imposes significant and undue legal risk, even for those that comply in good faith, creating a chilling effect on advice and education for investors. As an example, one exemption in the rule establishes new state court causes of action. The rule also grants a private right of action to IRA holders, where current law does not allow for such remedies.
    6. The rule creates “back door” bans on certain types of investments for plans and IRAs. The proposal includes a government approved list of assets for which the advisor can sell, but provides no additional protection from conflicts. The approved list presents a host of practical problems and conflicting guidelines for advisors, making it difficult for them to follow the new standards.
    7. Although the goal is to enable advisors to help investors, the Department of Labor is making it awfully difficult to act in the best interest of the investor. The government-approved list of assets prevents an advisor from discussing an unlisted asset, even if it would be in the best interest of the IRA owner. The backdoor ban also prevents an advisor from selling his or her firm’s proprietary products, even if, again, that would be in the investors’ best interest.

Debt Ceiling Legislation and Government Funding

In a letter to President Obama last week, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew cautioned:

“Based on our best and most recent information, we now estimate that extraordinary measures will be exhausted no later than Tuesday, November 3. At that point, we expect Treasury would be left with less than $30 billion to meet all of the nation’s commitments-an amount far short of net expenditures on certain days, which can be as high as $60 billion.”

Raising the debt limit is necessary to avoid the possibility of government default on federal debt of any kind, allow credit markets to function properly, and permit the economy to continue its recovery. The Chamber fully recognizes the importance of restraining federal spending to reduce federal budget deficits and reestablish fiscal discipline in the near term and for the long haul, and it supports uninterrupted funding to avoid costly government shutdowns that distract from these goals and harm American businesses.

Regulatory Reform

The Chamber recognizes the need for smart regulations to ensure workplace safety and protect public health. But with a $2 trillion price tag in compliance costs, an increasing number of huge and complex rules, and a permitting process that makes it virtually impossible to build anything, it’s clear the regulatory system isn’t working the way it should. Americans deserve a working regulatory system that is fair for everyone, takes into account the views of communities and businesses, evaluates the impact rules will have on jobs and small businesses, and protects our economic and personal freedoms.

The Chamber is tracking several harmful government regulations, including the following:

Environmental Protection Agency – Clean Power Plan, Ozone Regulations, Waters of the United States (WOTUS)

National Labor Relations Board – Joint Employer Regulations, Ambush Elections Ruling

Department of Labor – Fiduciary Rule, Overtime Rules