CHANTILLY, Va. - The Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA) reports that, while stalemate and delay seemed to characterize the first session of the 110th Congress, few options exist to address a number of key issues in the election year ahead. A late flurry of activity on the energy bill, minimum wage increase, an omnibus spending bill extension, a seven-year terrorism insurance bill, and funding an increase in the conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan allowed many in Congress to feel a sense of achievement. Without question, the Democratic agenda dominated the schedule for 2007, but the outcome evolved into a more balanced list as the president and Senate GOP forces stalled any issue they were uncomfortable supporting.
Significant changes occurred in energy efficiency, terrorism insurance, alternative minimum tax, and the comprehensive spending package, notes SMACNA. Although many Democratic supporting organizations and interest groups were disappointed in the content of many new laws or legislative packages, GOP leaders were trumpeting the value of their hard-won concessions from the Democratic leadership on issue after issue. The bottom line was that the president signed many new laws that both sides could support.
The second session of the 110th Congress features a presidential and congressional election year with an ambitious Democratic agenda but few actual working days expected to produce results. Scheduled around the caucus and primary election season will be an intense but short work period prior to a long break for the Democratic and Republican Party conventions. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has indicated her party will focus on economic initiatives, health care, the environment, national security and defense, especially the Iraq conflict and related regional conflicts. Speaker Pelosi pledged that Democrats would pursue a multi-pronged health care package that includes universal health care, electronic patient record reforms, and scientific and technology research. Add to this an economic stimulus package and tax incentive-driven energy efficiency package expected early in 2008 composed of sections dropped from the energy bill in late December in order to gain the president’s signature. Senate leaders have indicated that a continuation of the foreign policy battles and economic and tax reforms will dominate their agenda with contentious debates on issues expected to be front and center in the 2008 national election.
SMACNA says the good news for the HVAC industry is that a number of key tax and contracting reform and energy efficiency issues will be near the top of the probable agenda on Capitol Hill. These include enhanced commercial building standards, tax incentives for efficient buildings, estate tax reform, leasehold depreciation incentives, repeal of 3 percent withholding, independent contractor reform, contractor accountability enforcement, and more. Most of the controversial issues will await a new president and what many expert observers believe will be a far more Democratic Congress in January 2009.