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What’s on Tap in 2014 for Congress

As we begin the second session of the 113th Congress, many pundits in Washington are hoping that 2014 will be a more productive legislative year than 2013. Given the number of priorities on the to-do list and the limited amount of time to get them done (29 weeks because it is an election year), let’s hope last December’s budget deal is a good omen of things to come.

While the year will start with a discussion on extending unemployment benefits, probably the most pressing task for returning lawmakers will be to pass a Congressional spending plan (also called appropriations) for the 2014 fiscal year and avoiding another shutdown. The deadline is January 15th and should be made easier thanks to the recent budget agreement. The big issues will be cuts to defense spending and whether efforts will be made to defund the Affordable Care Act.

Closely following on the heels of the appropriations bill will be the need to raise the country’s debt ceiling. The temporary suspension of the debt limit will expire on February 7 and it is expected that Republicans will demand some concessions in exchange for raising the debt limit and avoiding default.

Reforming the tax code already faced long odds, but the effort suffered a serious blow when President Obama named Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) as the new ambassador to China. Incoming chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) may not share the zeal for the topic as his House counterpart, Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp.

While tax reform might be dead, what is likely is that lawmakers may push to retroactively extend some or all of the 55 tax breaks that expired at the end of last year. Some of these tax breaks (also known as “extenders,” in DC speak) include deductions for mortgage debt cancellation, state and local sales taxes, research and development, hiring veterans, wind power development, mass transit benefits and racetrack construction.

Momentum on immigration reform has slowed since the Senate passed its bipartisan bill in June 2013. House Republicans have taken a piecemeal approach that should reach the House floor this year. The main difference is that the House bill will likely only provide a path to a legal resident status (“green card”) instead of citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

One topic that does seem to have momentum is patent reform. Last December the House passed legislation making it more difficult for so-called “patent trolls” to sue companies and extract large settlements. The Senate is expected to pass a more limited version of the bill, but odds are good that these differences can get worked out in a conference committee.

Another issue that ALTA is watching closely is flood insurance reform. Recently Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) told reporters they had assurances that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would file a cloture motion in “early January” to advance legislation, S. 1846, to delay scheduled rate changes for homeowners residing in flood zones in revised maps. In the House of Representatives, Bill Cassidy (R-LA) has introduced a related measure.

Other topics that should get some consideration in Congress include a new multi-year farm bill, trade and customs legislation, cybersecurity and reforming the NSA’s data collection program.

If you have any questions about the congressional agenda, please contact Ben Lincoln, ALTA’s director of government affairs, at benjamin@alta.org or 202- 261-0308.

To get involved with legislative issues impacting the industry, I encourage you and your staff to join the Title Action Network, which is a free, energrized grasssroots movement consisting of  title insurance professionals promoting the industry's avlue and protecting consumer rights.


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