Washington Report: A New Year, a New Congress

by Patty Power, ACPA Washington Advocate

2022 is coming to a close, as is the 117th Session of Congress and the first half of the Biden administration.

As I noted in my last column, despite all the distracting noise and disruptions and true challenges, Congress and the administration have enacted significant legislation, including the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the Inflation Reduction Act, the CHIPs and Science Act, the annual National Defense Authorization Act, and the annual Appropriations Acts, along with the COVID response American Rescue Plan Act. Collectively, this legislation has fueled trillions of dollars of investment in infrastructure and economic development across the country. Most of this legislation was enacted with bipartisan support, although with tight margins.

Last month, the American people collectively communicated their satisfaction with their own federal representatives and voted for stability in the 2022 mid-term election. Predicted to bring a big change to the political landscape, the 2022 mid-term election did not. The Republicans will control the House by a small margin of nine seats. The Democrats retained control of the Senate and added a seat, resulting in a one-seat margin. What will this all mean? The narrow majorities in both the House and the Senate will create headaches for leadership in both chambers by empowering the minority factions in their respective caucuses. The bottom line is that Republicans and Democrats will have to work together to craft and support legislation to send to the President’s desk for signature.

“In 2023, major federal programs set to expire will be a top priority.“

Post-election day, Congress has been operating in a lame duck session. Since returning to Washington after the election, Congress has passed legislation to avert a rail strike and the Respect for Marriage Act. The Senate continues to consider and approve judicial and administrative nominations.

While there is a long list of bills many members want to pass, limited floor time will restrict what gets done by the end of the year. “Must-pass” legislation, primarily the annual appropriations bills which must be enacted to keep the federal government operating, and historically, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which has been enacted every year for the last 71 years, are on the top of the “to do” list. Both bills are seen as vehicles to carry other bills that had not moved on their own. For example, the Water Resources and Development Act, biennial legislation that authorizes U.S. Army Corps of Engineers construction projects, is included in both the House and the Senate in the NDAA. Many Corps of Engineer projects use a lot of concrete. Both are expected to be passed by the end of the year; if House and Senate leadership cannot come to agreement on the 12-bill spending package by the end of the year, they will pass a continuing resolution and hand off the task of resolving the spending decisions to the next Congress.

The 118th Congress begins in January. Major federal programs are due to expire in 2023 and will be top priorities for the whole of the federal government, including the Farm Bill and the reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The perennial threat of breaching the federal debt ceiling, once on the short list for the lame duck session, now looks likely to dominate congressional attention this summer. Off the Hill, federal departments and agencies are focused on using the additional $5 trillion in newly authorized spending, plus annual appropriations and NDAA spending. International challenges — led by the war in Ukraine, and many issues in Russia, China, North Korea and the Middle East — could at any point dominate the administration’s and Congress’s attention.

On behalf of our members, ACPA will continue to work toward cutting through all the noise to promote the cement and concrete industries’ priorities. We continue to work with our industry partners through the North Atlantic Concrete Alliance (NACA) and individually on many legislative and administrative/regulatory common issues. For example, we continue to work with National Ready Mixed Concrete Association and other construction associations to counter the very aggressive campaign of the timber industry to promote mass-timber construction materials. We will defend a materials-neutral approach to achieving sustainability. On our own, we continue to grow support for the Concrete Pump Tax Fairness Act.

In closing, we urge you to consider looking for local projects funded by the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and supplemented by matching state and local funds, to provide contracting opportunities for your company. ACPA urged Congress to pass an infrastructure bill, and they did. Now you can get the job done.

Wishing you all a prosperous 2023!