Unfinished Business Awaits Congress in SeptemberAugust 6, 2014
Lawmakers just began their five-week Congressional recess, and when they return to Washington, D.C. in September, there are approximately 12 scheduled legislative days before the Nov. 4 midterm elections. Congress has passed just 142 public laws since this two-year session began in Jan. 2013—including 70 that became law this year, further proving the productivity of this congressional session has been exceptionally low. With a lot still on the table to be resolved, below are some must-do items that are most relevant to small businesses.
While the House has passed roughly half of the appropriations bills establishing budgets for government agencies for the next fiscal year starting on Oct. 1, the Senate has yet to vote on any of these measures. Both chambers need to pass a spending bill by the end of September. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is preparing for a continuing resolution measure so that the government does not run out of money after Sept. 30. If it does not pass, there is a possibility of another government shutdown.
Much of the unresolved legislation in this Congress is significant, but perhaps the most important to small-business owners is the dozens of tax breaks that expired on Dec. 31, 2013. Included among the 55 tax provisions that expired last year are the research and experimentation credit; the expanded Section 179 expensing limitation; 50-percent bonus depreciation; 15-year straight-line cost recovery for qualified leasehold improvements, qualified restaurant buildings and improvements, and qualified retail improvements; the New Markets Tax Credit; and the Work Opportunity Tax Credit.
Also on the agenda is the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank of the U.S., which helps finance American exports of manufactured goods and services, with the objective of contributing to the employment of U.S. workforce, primarily in circumstances when alternative financing is not available. The Bank’s charter is set to expire on Sept. 30 and, unless Congress acts, it will be forced to end its assistance to American companies—specifically small exporters.
While the House already approved legislation that would permanently extend the current-law moratorium on state and local Internet access taxes and multiple and discriminatory taxes on electronic commerce, the Senate still must act. The Internet tax moratorium and related grandfathering provisions have been in effect since 1998 and were last extended in 2007. Unless extended, they are scheduled to expire on Nov. 1.
Prior to their departure, Congress was unable to hammer out an emergency funding deal in response to the surge of immigrants coming across the border. President Barack Obama had requested $3.7 billion in emergency funding to beef up border security and speed up the processing of tens of thousands of arrivals, many of them children. Senate Democrats put forth a $2.7 billion package that was blocked by Senate Republicans. Meanwhile, the House did pass a much smaller $694 billion package, but leadership has said it will not be considered by the Senate.
Other items that may be on the table in September include: raising the minimum wage, extending long-term unemployment, reauthorization of the terrorism-risk insurance and other priority items to each chamber.
Reid has indicated that he hopes that the Senate will wrap up its pre-election work by Sept. 23 and that he may keep the chamber in session on weekends to adhere to that schedule.