NSBA’s 2016 Legislative Outlook

February 17, 2016

pic-congress-committeeFresh off a surprisingly active legislative year in 2015, Congress has begun 2016 with numerous items to do and a Republican leadership eager to prove its ability to govern and get things done. Combined with this legislative enthusiasm is President Barack Obama’s renewed focus on what he can accomplish in his remaining months in office.

With both houses of Congress controlled by Republicans, we can expect the president to work at completing the unfinished priorities of his administration by pushing hard to advance nearly 4,000 regulations and issuing executive orders on a host of hot-button topics. Many in Congress will fight the administration’s rules and executive orders while working to advance legislation on everything from health care to energy to financial services and more.

Despite lofty goals, the Congressional calendar is significantly shortened this year due to the November elections. Both Republicans and Democrats are planning to be home during October for campaign purposes. Furthermore, the political party conventions will be significantly earlier this year, taking place in mid-July so as not to interfere with the upcoming Olympics. This leaves just over 100 days where both houses of Congress will be in session at the same time. Combine this shortened legislative calendar with a lame duck administration trying to move Democratic priorities on a Republican-controlled Congress, and 2016 could become quite interesting.

Here are some of the issues significant to small businesses that Congress may address this year, as well as a list of key dates.

Patent Reform

Even though 2015 saw a 14 percent increase in patent cases filed in federal district, the outlook for broad patent reform remains uncertain. We expect efforts to pass targeted fixes to the patent system that have broad support, notably legislation to curtail the abuse of demand letters as well as trade secrets legislation which is likely to see a vote in both the Senate and House sometime this year.

Cybersecurity

In 2016, lawmakers may take up data breach legislation governing when and how U.S. companies should report data breaches and notify customers when their personal information has been compromised. A number of data breach bills have been introduced in both the House and Senate, so lawmakers may merge their bills into a compromise measure.

Health Care

Republican lawmakers have long made a repeal of the Patient Protection Affordable Care Act (PPACA) a top legislative priority, and this is not expected to change in the coming year. As one of its first orders of business in 2016, the House passed a budget reconciliation measure (H.R. 3762) on Jan. 6 that would repeal key parts of the PPACA. President Obama vetoed the measure on Jan. 8. Congress will continue to work on some targeted health proposals, however, including mental health, chronic diseases and drug pricing.

U.S. Department of Labor Rules

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) is expected to finalize its Fiduciary Rule early in 2016 which would mandate many fee disclosures, a rule which has been the target of two Congressional bills aimed at stopping its implementation. The DOL’s overtime proposal is expected to be finalized in July, however delays due to the massive number of comments as well as lawsuits to block implementation could cause further delay.

Tax Reform

Despite Congressional leaders continually vowing to tackle broad tax reform, this year Republican leaders are strategically lowering expectations, instead saying they will use the election year to lay the groundwork for an aggressive tax reform legislative push in 2017.

Trans-Pacific Partnership

In Oct. 2015, negotiators concluded talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade deal linking 12 countries in North and South America and the Asia-Pacific region that comprise 40 percent of the global economy. Last year, Congress provided President Obama with Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), under which lawmakers can only take an up-or-down vote on the TPP. However, election year politics may complicate passage of the accord, especially as the year progresses with a TPP vote possibly being held until the lame duck session or beyond.

 

KEY 2016 DATES

February 9: New Hampshire Primary

March 1: Super Tuesday (15 primaries and caucuses)

July 15-September 5: House and Senate Recess

July 18-21: Republican National Convention (Cleveland, Ohio)

July 25-28: Democratic National Convention (Philadelphia, Pa.)

September 6: House and Senate Reconvene

September 26: Presidential Debate (Dayton, Ohio)

September 30: FY16 Appropriations Expire

September 30: House Recesses

October 4: Vice Presidential Debate (Farmville, Va.)

October 7: Senate Recesses

October 9: Presidential Debate (St. Louis, Mo.)

October 19: Presidential Debate (Las Vegas, Nev.)

November 8: Election Day

November 14: House and Senate Reconvene

December 16: House and Senate Adjourn

 

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