G.L. Metro Chambers Coalition Highlights Key Takeaways from DC Trip

On February 2-3, representatives of the Coalition met with 33 key members of the Great Lakes congressional delegation to urge action on three issues of vital importance to the region:  transportation infrastructure, high-skilled immigration and base load energy.   Representatives of the Coalition included chambers of commerce from Buffalo, Cleveland, Des Moines, Detroit, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Muskegon, Pittsburgh, Traverse City and West Michigan.  Our friends at the US Chamber and our advisors at K&L Gates also joined in the fun.

The Coalition shared its priorities in a four-page brochure and individual briefs for each of the three priority issues:  transportation infrastructure, high-skilled immigration and base load energy.

Here’s what we learned: 

  • ​Many members signaled that there would be movement to find funds for a long-term transportation funding bill, but many members were worried about using the repatriation of business taxes to fund a bill.  Many were open to the idea of expanded tolling and fees that would keep up with inflation.  Most were noncommittal at this point about what they want to see as a funding solution.  Sustainable funding is the big sticking point.
  • Congressman Bill Huizenga (R-MI) has a high-skilled immigration concept very similar to the Coalition’s High Skilled Immigration Zones.
  • House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) is supportive of the Coalition’s position on high-skilled visa issues.
  • Many of our legislators are fully behind high skilled immigration reform, but are taking a backseat to those opposed to comprehensive reform.  While many of our members are supportive, few of them are on the key committees to move the items.  However, we do have many in leadership, including the Speaker of the House.
  • Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Congresswoman Candice Miller (R-MI) will soon drop a bill to combat Asian Carp through electronic barriers at a key location, and they would like our support.
  • Our region is doing fairly well with the WRRDA budget recommendations, but could do better.
  • We will need to build Congressional resolve for keeping the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative at its current $300 million level, as the Administration once again trimmed its support.
  • Congresswoman Marci Kaptur (D-OH) has a bill to give the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation authority over a Great Lakes Seaway System Regional Direct Revolving Loan and Bond Fund Program for economic development that would be connected to the Great Lakes.
  • Congressman Fred Upton (R-MI), who was in complete agreement with the Coalition’s three issues, is working to get Congressman John Moolenaar (R-MI) on the House Appropriations Committee.  Our region is light on representation on the committee, so this would be very helpful.
  • Many Republican members agreed with our positions on base load energy.  Democrats agreed that grid and funding the National Energy Technology Laboratories (NETL) should be priorities, but said Climate Change is the biggest priority.

 

What’s ahead for the three issues we took to the Hill?

Surface Transportation Infrastructure:

Congress will not likely meet the deadline for a bill before the end of the continuing resolution in May.  It is likely that Congress will pass a short term continuing resolution for transportation infrastructure, then pass a longer term solution before year-end.  Because of election year politics in 2016, legislators feel the pressure do something significant this year.

High-Skilled Immigration:

  • Chairman Goodlatte and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) will likely reintroduce the SKILLS Visa Act (HR. 2131) from the 113th Congress, which would increase the cap on high-skilled visas and improve a number of other immigrant worker policies for business and industry.
  • Chairman Goodlatte will likely first proceed to consideration of stand-alone legislation on border security before moving stand-alone legislation on high-skilled visas (e.g. SKILLS Visa Act) and a host of other stand-alone bills.
  • Rep. Chris Gibson’s (R-NY) office expressed interest in signing on to a Dear Colleague letter to Chairman Goodlatte––if GLMCC were to pursue the idea––that would request an increase in the high-skilled visa cap and explain why it’s important to the Great Lakes region.
  • If the Coalition could speak to one of the Great Lakes legislative offices about offering an amendment to the SKILLS Visa Act, if and when the bill is introduced and makes its way to a committee markup, the creation of a High-Skilled Immigration Zone pilot program proposed by the Coalition might be included.

Base Load Energy

The House GOP’s recently released energy package sidesteps a showdown over President Obama’s greenhouse gas rules that would be so damaging to Great Lakes manufacturing.  Congressman Fred Upton, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, indicates he plans to move forward with an aggressive agenda to address EPA’s overreach, although exactly how the opponents plan to move ahead is uncertain.

Stand-alone legislation or invoking the Congressional Review Act (which has successfully stopped one executive-branch regulation in 2001) are likely to incur presidential vetoes.  Leveraging government funding (as the GOP did with the defunding President Obama’s immigration initiatives in the Department of Homeland Security budget) could trigger a government shutdown and a battle over who takes the blame for shutting down the EPA.

It is still very unclear what strategy will be employed to challenge the EPA’s rules.  And so, it remains critical that the Coalition continue communicating its message on how these regulations would inflict a significant blow to Midwest manufacturing and grid reliability.

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