NEW YORK – Small-business issues often win bipartisan support on Capitol Hill, but given the divisions in the incoming 116th Congress, advocates for companies have low expectations.
Even after lawmakers deal with the partial government shutdown, a Democratic House, a Republican Senate and ongoing investigations of the Trump White House and campaign are expected to be obstacles to much small-business-related work getting done.
“I think 2019 is going to be a quiet year with maybe small reforms on tax things, maybe some trade legislation getting through,” said Karen Kerrigan, president of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council.
Company owners may see more movement in their states, said John Arensmeyer, CEO of Small Business Majority, who called governors “more aggressive than anyone” on helping small business.
A look at some of the issues small-business advocates expect to be on government agendas this year:
Lawmakers were expected to introduce health care bills even before the federal court ruling last month that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional. Since that ruling, which is expected to be appealed and could reach the Supreme Court, House Democrats have said they plan to intervene in the defense of the law.
Democrats expect to introduce bills to limit the use of low-cost, short-term health plans that have limited coverage and bolster the ACA's coverage of people with pre-existing conditions. Republican opposition to Democratic efforts is likely, although many GOP lawmakers voiced support for pre-existing condition coverage during their election campaigns.
Small-business groups want Congress to pass legislation limiting increases in health care costs – but they're not optimistic.
“To do that would be controversial,” said Todd McCracken, president of the National Small Business Association.
Legislation to simplify tax code provisions that affect small businesses languished in the last Congress and is expected to be reintroduced. Among other things, the Small Business Owners' Tax Simplification Act would make due dates for estimated tax payments the last date of calendar year quarters.
It would also make it easier for owners to deduct their own health care premiums.
“They're common sense reforms that are supported by both sides of the aisle,” Kerrigan says.
Congress is expected to consider the U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement early this year. The trade deal, intended to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, is opposed by Democrats who want stronger protections for U.S. workers from low-wage Mexican competition. Many U.S. small manufacturers export to Mexico and Canada and want the deal ratified.
“It's bad for business, particularly for small businesses, if the agreement just went away,” McCracken said.
The Labor Department is expected to issue its new regulations on overtime – which employees must be given overtime, and which are exempt.
The Trump administration is rewriting rules written under the Obama administration and then blocked by a federal judge; those rules would have doubled the pay threshold at which workers would be exempt from overtime, to $47,476 from $23,660. An estimated 4.2 million people would have been able to begin earning overtime under the rules.
Legislation to repair the nation's roadways and bridges is expected in the new Congress although the Trump administration $1.5 billion proposal announced last February foundered. McCracken says the parties remain too far apart for a bill to pass – unless the economy provides some motivation for a compromise.