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BPAA Biweekly Federal Policy Updates - December 14

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CONGRESSIONAL UPDATE

  • Committee leadership in Congress is beginning to fall in place. Democrats will take the helm in the House and there will be some Senate reshuffling due to retirements and election losses.

TAX NEWS

  • Federal Tax Rundown:
    • Politico Reports - Tax hawks are wondering will the House even vote on its year-end tax measure, H.R. 88 (115) – the bill that Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) introduced on Monday of this week. The chamber skipped town on Thursday morning and won't return for almost a full week as government funding negotiations remain at a standstill. That schedule means it could be a tight squeeze for getting floor time for the bill, though Chairman Brady would only say Thursday that "as soon as we have a sense of what the schedule will look like, we'll get it out." Read here to learn more about the background of the bill.
    • There's also the question of whether House Republicans can scrape together the votes to pass the plan, even as the Senate doesn't appear likely to act even if the House can get its current measure — which includes the delay of some Affordable Care Act taxes and items from the conservative wish list like ending the ban on electioneering by churches and other nonprofits — through the chamber. A House GOP aide acknowledged Thursday that Republicans faced some challenges in finding the right mix for a tax bill, given that the measure would be the last of the current Congress and so many lawmakers have pet tax issues.
    • The Congressional Budget Office issued a plan of options for cutting the deficit between 2019 and 2028. Some numbers from the revenue side:
      • Raising the long-term capital gains rate by two points brings in close to $70 billion over a decade.
      • Hiking the Social Security payroll tax rate by two points would rack up $1.42 trillion over 10 years.
      • And a tax on greenhouse gas emissions? $1.1 trillion over that decade.
  • Bloomberg Government: Neal Says House Democrats Will Take Up Tax Extenders: A Democratic-controlled House will take up tax extenders quickly in the next session if the chamber fails to pass legislation this year, Ways and Means Committee ranking member Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.) said. “We would take it up pretty fast,” Neal, the incoming committee chairman, told reporters Dec. 12. “We’ve got to figure out what floor time is available, but I certainly would be interested.” Democrats would want to hold hearings and take a fresh look at the issue, he said. Tax extenders—extensions of temporary tax provisions—have been a focus of House Republicans as the chamber attempts to pass a final round of legislation during the lame-duck session. Committee Chairman Kevin Brady’s (R-Texas) initial lame-duck tax bill contained provisions for extenders, but the tax break renewals are now running on a separate track. House leaders are currently gauging support for the legislation. Several tax extenders under consideration “don’t belong there,” Rep. Sander M. Levin (D-Mich.) told reporters Dec. 12. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer announced Thursday, December 13 committee memberships for the next Congress, including having Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) being added to the Finance panel.
  • Politico - House Democrats have ditched a proposal to keep the chamber's supermajority vote requirement to raise taxes for all but the wealthiest Americans, the Washington Post reports. "Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), incoming chair of the House Rules Committee, told lawmakers Tuesday he will not advance 'supermajority' rules requiring three-fifths majorities to approve tax hikes for most taxpayers, according to Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus."
    • Existing House rules require the supermajority vote for any income tax increase, and Democratic leaders had proposed to keep it except when it came to raising taxes on the top 20 percent of earners, which would only require a simple majority. "But some liberal organizations and lawmakers said that did not go far enough, arguing that even the weaker rule would make it nearly impossible to enact progressive legislation such as Medicare-for-All or free universal college," the Post noted.

LABOR NEWS

  • Bloomberg Government: Administration, Restaurant Group Agree Tipped Wage Suit Can End: The U.S. Labor Department and the National Restaurant Association agree that a federal lawsuit challenging the agency’s now-abandoned approach to tipped workers and their earnings should be dismissed. The request to dismiss the lawsuit, filed by the DOL’s attorney Nov. 30, said both the agency and the National Restaurant Association’s legal arm, the Restaurant Law Center, agreed to drop proceedings on the lawsuit originally challenging Obama-era guidance that said tipped workers should be paid the full minimum wage for small amounts of time they spend on tasks that don’t generate tips. The Restaurant Law Center sued the DOL in July over the policy that dictated how to approach employers that take advantage of a provision in the federal minimum wage law that lets a business count tips from customers toward the minimum wage it’s required to pay. The DOL undid that guidance Nov. 8. Both parties now agree that the November opinion letter “resolves the case or controversy underlying the Complaint” and renders the lawsuit moot. The Restaurant Law Center contended the DOL applied the earlier policy as though it carried the weight of a regulation that had gone through formal rulemaking, even though it was simply guidance the Obama administration added to DOL workers’ Field Operations Handbook and wasn’t entitled to the deference that a regulation receives. The guidance was an effort to address workers who earn tips and spend some of their work time on tasks that don’t generate tips, such as a server who occasionally operates a dishwasher. The Fair Labor Standards Act allows an employer to pay a worker as little as $2.13 per hour, as long as tips carry the employee’s income to the standard federal minimum wage, which is $7.25. An employee who spends up to 20 percent of his or her work time on tasks that don’t lead to tips could be paid the tipped minimum wage, under the guidance, which is sometimes referred to as the 80/20 rules.
     
  • Politico - Minimum Wage Hearing Canceled Over Witness: The House Education and the Workforce Committee postponed a hearing scheduled for Wednesday, December 12  on the economic consequences of a $15 hourly minimum wage after homophobic and sexist blog posts surfaced that were penned by one of the witnesses, San Diego State University economist Joseph Sabia. Read more at Morning Shift.
     
  • Huffington Post - Democrats To Prioritize $15 Federal Minimum Wage With House Takeover: Don’t try telling Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) that a $15 federal minimum wage is nothing more than a progressive pipe dream.  The incoming chair of the House Committee on Education and Labor quickly points to recent ballot initiatives in conservative states where voters overwhelmingly signed off on minimum wage hikes. In November, Missouri approved raising theirs to $12 by 2023, and Arkansas to $11 by 2021. “You’ve got red states passing it, and it isn’t even close,” Scott said. As for Republicans in Congress who’ve opposed any raise at all, “Are they saying zero?” Scott asked. “Are they just going to say no? Well, let them vote.” House Democrats will soon have the chance to force them to. They will enjoy an advantage of 235-199 next session (with one seat still up in the air) after eight years in the minority left them with no way to advance a minimum wage bill. The federal minimum wage, now just $7.25 per hour, prevails in 21 states that don’t require a higher one. Congress hasn’t approved an increase since 2007, a long stretch by historical standards. Even so, a $15 minimum wage is unlikely to become law anytime soon, given the hurdles in the Senate, where Republicans still hold a 53-47 majority. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has shown no interest in taking up a minimum wage bill of any kind, nor has President Donald Trump suggested he’d sign one, at least not since the 2016 campaign.

MUSIC LICENSING

  • Politico - Justice Faces Lawmakers’ Opposition to Ending Music Consent Decrees: House lawmakers continue to challenge the Justice Department’s efforts to unwind a decades-old settlement that governs music licensing fees, concerned that the move could spike fees public venues pay to play songs. 
    • Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y) and Tom Marino (D-Pa.) questioned Makan Delrahim, the DOJ’s antitrust division chief, on why the agency aims to undo consent decrees that settled claims that two music royalty collectives — the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) and Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI) — were violating federal antitrust law. Their questioning came during a House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing on antitrust enforcement Dec. 12.  “We hope you don’t pull the rug out from under us,” Marino told Delrahim. The move “will truly disrupt those who play music.”
    • Delrahim announced in April the DOJ’s intent to undo the decrees as part of a wider initiative to review 1,300 antitrust consent decrees that may be outdated. The DOJ’s settlements with ASCAP and BMI, originally created in 1941, require the organizations to offer licenses to broadcast services, concert halls and other public venues on equal terms, set by a federal court, to promote competition in the music market. Delrahim told lawmakers during the hearing that the DOJ hasn’t reached a conclusion on the decrees. “We share your concern about disruption,” Delrahim said. ASCAP and BMI have been opposed to the decrees and seek to freely pursue royalty rates for their members. Industry groups representing licensees formed the MIC Coalition to lobby for continuing protections against potential anticompetitive behavior. ASCAP and BMI, along with two smaller organizations—Sesac and Global Music Rights—control more than 90 percent of the music that’s licensed in the U.S.
    • Any modifications to the music industry settlements without replacement rules would undermine recently enacted music royalty legislation, the Music Modernization Act, said Nadler, who is expected to chair the House Judiciary Committee next year. The law aims to streamline royalty payments to artists from digital streamers like Spotify, among other changes. It was enacted with the expectation that the ASCAP and BMI decrees would remain in place. “It is very important to me that this law—which was strongly supported by virtually all stakeholders— is not undermined by abrupt changes in enforcement policy with respect to the ASCAP and BMI consent decrees that may disrupt benefits to songwriters, copyright owners, music licensees, and consumers, particularly without an alternative framework in place,” Nadler said.
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