The lame duck session of the 113th Congress began last month, after Democrats suffered significant losses in the November 4 elections. The GOP ultimately gained nine Senate seats, turning a 55-45 Democratic majority into a Republican-led chamber for the first time in eight years. The House increased its majority to the largest number in more than 50 years. Statewide, the GOP gained full control of legislatures and governorships in 22 states, compared with the Democrats’ control in six states. Seventeen states now have divided state governments. Women also made significant inroads in the elections. They won 100 seats in Congress on Election Day, more than at any time in history. Iowa’s Joni Ernst (R) and West Virginia’s Shelley Moore Capito (R) succeeded in becoming the first women Senators from their states.

What do the election results mean for the remainder of the lame duck? The new Congress doesn’t officially take power until January and action must be taken by this outgoing House and Senate to extend government funding beyond December 11 to keep agencies operating. 

It is also likely that renewal of dozens of already-expired tax breaks (including the R&D tax credit, expanded Sec. 179 expensing and 50 percent bonus depreciation) will be considered before the end of the session, despite resistance brewing from some GOP lawmakers. House Republican aides say a tax extender package during the lame duck is still possible. AMT has joined with more than 500 like-minded associations in a letter to Congress calling for passage of extender legislation immediately. Please contact your members of Congress today to urge extension. You can quickly and easily send a letter from AMT’s Advocacy page on AMTonline – www.amtonline.org/advocacy – by clicking on the link to the “Legislative Action Center.”

Progress on visa reform

In a major victory for AMT members, President Obama announced a reciprocal visa validity arrangement between the United States and China during his visit there last month. Both countries have agreed to increase the validity of business and short-term tourist visas issued to each other’s citizens from one to 10 years – the longest validity possible under U.S. law – and to increase the validity of student and exchange visas from one to five years. The U.S. began issuing visas in accordance with the new reciprocal agreement on November 12. Visa reform is a public policy priority for AMT and the association has been working toward streamlining the visa application process for many years. China is a top market for our members’ products, and barriers to business between our two countries means lost market share for AMT members. 

With this change, the administration projects that up to 7.3 million Chinese visitors will visit the United States by 2021, contributing roughly $85 billion per year to our economy and supporting 440,000 American jobs. Visit the State Department’s travel website – http://travel.state.gov – and click on “Newsroom” for additional information on this policy change.

Keystone XL pipeline defeated

The Senate narrowly defeated a bipartisan House-passed bill authorizing completion of the Keystone XL Pipeline last month. Proponents needed to attract 15 Democrats (all 45 Senate Republicans voted to support the measure) to overcome a filibuster of the measure. They fell just one vote shy of the 60 votes necessary to proceed. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) led her conference’s efforts to pass the measure. The loss sealed her fate in a December 6 runoff in her bid for reelection. The new GOP majority is expected to take it up early next year, when far fewer Democratic crossovers will be needed for passage.

What does the new GOP majority mean for 2015? 

Soon after the elections, incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) along with House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) pledged to get to work on legislation that has bipartisan support, such as trade promotion authority and comprehensive tax reform. It’s unclear how much the President’s recent Executive Order on immigration poisoned that will to compromise. There will also be efforts to dismantle and improve the Affordable Care Act and to move a FY15 budget and appropriations through regular order, something that has been accomplished only four times in the last 30+ years. It remains to be seen whether the elections signaled the beginning of a new era of governing in Washington or if business will go back to the usual after the glow of victory fades. On November 4, the American people definitely spoke up that it’s time for a change. Let’s hope the men and women they elected were listening.