Washington's Biggest Failures in 2013
Washington lawmakers are scheduled to bolt out of town later this month for their annual monthlong winter recess, marking the end of another year of missed opportunities.
Congress and the administration failed to bring closure to several pieces of business that would spark economic growth and job creation, while alleviating growing uncertainty in the business community. Here are Washington’s top five biggest failures in 2013, in no particular order:
Immigration reform: Prospects for a comprehensive immigration reform bill remain cloudy, but the president and Republican leaders say that they remain committed to fixing the nation’s broken immigration system.
Comprehensive immigration reform stalled over the summer after the Senate passed sweeping legislation to overhaul border security, require employer verification of workers’ status, and create a lengthy path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. The House, meanwhile, has declined to put that bill to a vote, instead working on smaller pieces of immigration legislation.
Immigration reform remains a top priority for the U.S. Chamber. “America deserves a lawful, rational, and practicable immigration system that provides the labor we need at all skill levels while protecting the rights of citizens, businesses, the undocumented, and those legally pursuing citizenship,” says Chamber President and CEO Tom Donohue.
Tax reform: Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree that the current tax code is overly complex, impedes economic growth, and hurts America’s global competitiveness. But that’s where all agreement ends, and bipartisan efforts by the top two congressional tax writers have been hit by one roadblock after another, including the 16-day government shutdown, the last-minute scramble to raise the nation’s debt ceiling, and an all-consuming conference committee negotiation to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the fiscal year 2014 budget resolution.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) have publicly agreed on the fundamental principles of comprehensive tax reform: broaden the base, lower the rates, and simplify the code, all of which the Chamber strongly supports.
Entitlement reform: Entitlement spending remains the main driver of current and future deficits and high debt levels. It must be addressed. Today, the United States spends $1.6 trillion on just three of the nation’s entitlement programs—Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. In 10 years, the total price for these programs will soar to $3 trillion. Congress cannot continue kicking the can down the road.
The procedural hurdles involved in reforming entitlements, however, are significant. For example, in the Senate, any bills seeking to change Social Security provisions fall under the so-called Byrd rule, which means that they can be challenged by a single senator as inadmissible.
But regardless of how hard it is, it must be done. And with lawmakers discussing a long-term budget deal, it could be the best opportunity in years to address unsustainable entitlement spending and stabilize federal finances, according to the Chamber.
While no one expected Congress to enact tax reform and entitlement reform in 2013, the fact that there was no progress on either issue is disappointing.
Keystone XL: It is five years and counting on a presidential decision to approve a pipeline to transport Canadian oil sands crude oil to U.S. refineries.
Studies by the administration have shown that construction of Keystone XL would directly result in $3.3 billion in investment in the United States and support tens of thousands of American jobs across diversified sectors, which would, in turn, add billions of dollars to the national and regional economies. Yet environmentalists have held up approval of the pipeline.
In a letter to the president, business groups urged him to “approve the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline to signal to the world that the necessary ingredients for a strengthened U.S. recovery are in place and to bolster the foundations of U.S. competitiveness and energy security.”
Deficit Crisis Redux: The outcome of the budget, the sequester, and debt limit negotiations is the single biggest failure of this Congress and administration, according to U.S. Chamber Executive Vice President for Government Affairs Bruce Josten. “The bias toward unconstrained deficit spending is our top economic issue,” Josten says. "The agreement [to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling], like the fiscal cliff deal, avoided destruction and nothing else.”