The 110th Congress is well under way, with Democrats firmly in control in the House while clinging to a slim majority in the Senate. This new balance of power on Capitol Hill means Democrats will face the same situation that Republicans faced in the 109th Congress: the ability of the House to swiftly pass legislation almost at will, but the Senate needing to find common ground with the minority to avoid potential filibusters. However, the Democrats also have to contend with the possibility of George W. Bush using his veto power more aggressively over the next 2 years than at any other time during his administration. Regardless, the new majority party will be much more active than the last year of Republican control.
In keeping this pledge to be an active lawmaking body, the new Congress got off to a quick start in early January with the House Democrats announcing and pushing forward a "100 Hours" Agenda. Legislation passed includes an increase in the federal minimum wage, funding for stem-cell research, interest-rate cuts on student loans, and implementation of the remaining recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. These proposals all made it through the House quickly, with little debate.
Of interest to BOMA Intl.'s advocacy program was the passage of lobbying reform and ethics legislation, part of the 100 Hours Agenda. While the bill requires lawmakers to attach their name to provisions dedicated to special interest (so-called "earmarks"), it also places a ban on even the smallest of gifts, meals, and travel funded by lobbyists. Consequently, these reforms will heighten the need for political dollars raised by political action committees (PACs), such as BOMAPAC, which is regulated by the Federal Election Commission.
The new political reality will also have a tremendous impact on many of BOMA Intl.'s legislative priorities. BOMA expects issues such as terrorism risk insurance and energy to receive a significant amount of attention in 2007, while BOMA's advocacy team will continue to urge Congress to extend or make permanent its tax-related agenda.
This new era of Democratic control means new hurdles for tax policy. In order to reign in the current deficit spending, Democratic leaders have implemented "pay-as-you-go" rules for spending. Generally, this means that any policy that costs the government revenue, such as a reduced tax rate, must be offset in some other way to be considered revenue neutral. This will ultimately make BOMA's attempts to extend or make permanent the reduced rate on capital gains and dividends, and reduced timeline for depreciating leasehold improvements, much more difficult. Both remain BOMA priorities, but will be a challenge to extend further or make permanent under these new "pay-as-you-go" rules. Last year, in the final days of the lame duck session of the 109th Congress, legislators retroactively extended the reduced timeline for depreciating leasehold improvements that had expired at the end of 2005 so that it would apply to 2006 and 2007.
The 110th Congress is also expected to focus much of its attention on energy policy and reducing the country's dependence on foreign oil. Democratic leadership has already targeted tax breaks given to the oil and gas industry, and plans to redirect such revenue toward alternative and renewable energy resources. The BOMA Energy Efficiency Program (BEEP), an educational program designed to promote low- and no-cost operating and management best practices to building owners and managers, will be shared on Capitol Hill to demonstrate the association's ongoing commitment to the environment. BOMA will also advocate for increasing and extending the accelerated tax deduction for energy-efficient commercial buildings that was passed in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and was extended for an additional year at the end of the 109th Congress. This tax deduction now expires at the end of 2008.
Other priority areas of the new Congress include healthcare and immigration. With the continuing rise of healthcare costs, coupled with states such as Massachusetts and California proposing legislation designed to increase government's role in covering the uninsured, it's only natural that the new chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, Edward Kennedy (D-MA), will propose overarching federal legislation.
One area that was left unresolved during the 109th Session of Congress, and where the Democrats may find the most common ground with President Bush, is immigration. Congress will work with the President on developing a guest-worker program and possibly a legalization process for the illegal immigrants already in the country. Expected to be part of comprehensive immigration reform is punishment for businesses that knowingly employ illegal workers. BOMA will be vigilant in making sure such legislation applies to one's own employees, but does not make building and business owners responsible for the employees of its subcontractors.
For more information on these and other issues, call BOMA Intl. at (202) 408-2662 or visit (www.boma.org).