2013 Legislative Agenda : Getting Things DoneJanuary 2013 By Erik Cagle, senior editor
Now that the egg nog has dried up, the fruitcake has been mercifully thrown away and the last of the pine needles from the tree have been vacuumed, it's time for the U.S. government to get off its duff and get back to work. President Obama is about to embark on his second term and, absent a palace coup, Congress will need to work with him in the coming years to help provide meaningful—and much-needed—legislation.
We've got Lisbeth Lyons, vice president of Government Affairs at Printing Industries of America (PIA), to walk us through with some of the most pressing issues from the printing industry standpoint. Some of the topics are fluid and impact a large swath of Americans as opposed to just printers, while other issues are more localized in terms of scope. A couple of big-ticket items were still in process at press time that will have major ramifications (hint: Mr. ZIP is back in Washington).
If you never heard the phrase "fiscal cliff" ever uttered again, would you be overjoyed? If you said yes, join the other 285 million Americans sickened by the back-and-forth banter between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner concerning the raising of income taxes and draconian cuts in spending. Fortunately, Congress avoided the fiscal cliff by reaching an accord just as the new year came.
The Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)—the 40-year-old rule that ensures wealthy people pay some level of taxes—was permanently indexed for inflation. In the past, Congress "patched" it every year or so. Fortunately for many Americans, minimum income levels subject to the AMT went up; however, the wealthiest Americans won't be able to take as many deductions as previously.
The estate tax saw a permanent extension of the 2010 tax law on portability and unification, with a $5 million exemption indexed for inflation (now $5.12 million) and a 40 percent top rate. A one-year extension was also made on the 50 percent bonus depreciation.
Lyons points out that Congress had flirted with looking at corporate tax reform and lowering the corporate rate, a move Obama supports. Still, whether corporate and individual reform is attacked as either a package or separately, action needs to be taken on both fronts. Many printers are pass-through entities and S corporations, paying at the individual level—so both individual and corporate conversations are of great interest.
"We want to make sure there's parity in how corporate and individual reforms are addressed," she says.
The fiscal cliff deal included a laundry list of tax extenders renewed for one year, including the 50 percent bonus depreciation, and the research and development tax credit.
Postal Service Reform
You have no idea how close we came to providing a "Dewey Defeats Truman" level of misinformation when it comes to reporting on postal reform for the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). Finally giving Mr. ZIP a new, much-needed 'do seemed a fait accompli, but an 11th-hour deal never materialized. Apparently, Congress was busy on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day addressing the bigger "cliff" hanger.
But let's not be too quick to blame the tax hostage situation for the demise of meaningful postal reform. After all, the Senate passed a bipartisan bill last April, for crying out loud. But the House, partly lost in the weeds on how to address future worker compensation claims, delayed the process. Still, a reform package worked out in both chambers came oh-so close to reality, according to Lyons, and it would have addressed many of the pressing issues facing the U.S. Postal Service.
Now, Congress must start over from scratch. To a degree, at least. When something finally gets pushed through, and the USPS seems to be able to stay afloat at least until the summer, one thing is for certain. Saturday delivery will be going away. There will be stipulations for certain types of deliveries, but six-day delivery is almost certain to go away.
Something's got to give. The USPS has defaulted on more than $11 billion in payments to the U.S. treasury and maxed out its $15 billion borrowing limit last September. Lyons says Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) intends to move postal reform to the front burner for the 113th Congress.
Health Care Reform
The Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, is now the law of the land. It's not going to go away anytime soon. Much of the effort being done by PIA is to educate members on its implementation and what choices will be available, as evidenced by a recent Webinar—the first in a series—intended to guide printers through the process leading up to the Fall open enrollment.
While there likely won't be any attempts made to repeal or replace Obamacare, the lobby will be pushing for tweaks to be made to it from a tax standpoint: For example, the dollar amount of subsidies for individuals who purchase their own insurance. Lyons sees this being a part of the overall tax reform conversation.
There will be other minor, but notable, health care talking points worthy of monitoring, items Lyons terms as populist issues, such as allowing people to use their medical flexible savings account for over-the-counter drugs.
"The big focus for health care in our industry is deciphering the regulations and implementation steps that members have to take," she adds. "We expect to play a key resource role for our member companies in those areas."
A couple of relative newcomers to the legislative agenda both deal with paper—one from a delivery standpoint; the other provides consumers with expanded choices in what is becoming a paperless movement.
On the front end, the issue at hand is transportation productivity. The transportation faction—with allies that include the paper industry—is asking Congress to raise the weight limit on trucks that feature an added sixth axle. The rationale is that heavier—not bigger—makes for safer trucks. From the printing industry point of view, this enables the delivery fleet to carry more product, which bolsters efficiency. This issue is on the radar screen for the transportation committee in the 113th Congress. The issue will not only face stiff resistance from highway safety advocates, but also the powerful railroad lobby.
Another advocacy group is looking to protect senior citizens and the 30 percent of Americans who do not have online access by forming the Consumers for Paper Options. It is seeking to address the problem of government agencies resorting to a paperless environment, which leaves those without electronic access out in the cold when it comes to Social Security checks, tax forms and the like.
"This group was formed to look at legislation that would urge the federal government to have a more rational, options-oriented way for citizens to get government information," Lyons notes. "We'd like to see it expanded to the business community.
"Going paperless just because it's easier for the agency that's handling it doesn't necessarily mean it's better for consumers and citizens. It's a choice issue; even if you have plenty of high-speed Internet access, you may still wish to receive things in paper form. Why should that choice be taken away from you?" PI