Bill Tracker – February 2018

jessica_santinaCongressional Delegation Legislation Update
Bills From The Hill That Matter To Nevadans
Compiled by Jessica Santina

H.R.4818 – Pulled Pork Act

Sponsor: Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-NV0

Co-Sponsor: Rep. Walter B. Jones, Jr. (R-NC)

Synopsis: A bill to prohibit the use of Federal funds made available in the form of an earmark, and for other purposes. No funds made available after this act’s enactment to any executive agency through an earmark may be obligated or expended by that agency, and any such funds are rescinded effective immediately so as to make those funds available. This bill instructs each federal agency to identify earmarked funds allocated to them by Congress and report those earmarks to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which would publish a list of attempted earmarks and the annual savings resulting from the inability to spend those funds. The bill would immediately return any agency’s improperly earmarked funds to the U.S. Treasury.

Action: On 1/17/2018, introduced in House, referred to Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and Committee on Appropriations.
Sponsor Comments: “Congress made the right decision when it ended the practice of earmarks,” said Congresswoman Rosen. “Earmarks represent a return to political favoritism, unethical practices, and wasteful government spending. Our constituents deserve better and I believe that compromise, not pork barrel projects, is how we cut through partisan gridlock. I’ll continue working to put Nevada families first by reaching across the aisle to find issues that both Democrats and Republicans agree on, and not through the politics of bribery that this administration is looking to embrace.”  
“For years, earmarks wrought corruption and ballooned the national deficit. That is why they were banned by the House of Representatives and Senate in 2011,” said Congressman Jones. “We mustn’t return to this wasteful manner of spending. We must remain resolute in our ethical governance.”

Jessica’s Take: In 2011, the Republican-controlled Congress, under the charge of John Boehner, put a temporary ban on earmarks, calling them “pet projects prized by lawmakers that had become synonymous with pork-barrel spending and corruptions.” Earmarking is a system of Congressional spending that enables lawmakers to add funding for specific purposes to be drawn into larger federal spending bills. This kind of spending circumvents the typical merit-based or competitive funds allocation process, in short bypassing the process of determining how funds will be spent.

Congress banned them as a means of calling an end to budget bills that catered to local demands.

That temporary ban has recently been under discussion since the President Trump surprisingly embraced earmarks in early January 2018, suggesting the system could bring lawmakers together during these divisive times.

It would seem, on the surface, as if earmarks, or pork, as they’ve come to be known, are best left banned. After all, they’re a way in which lawmakers get to play favorites with constituents and sneak in spending without going through appropriate channels. And most lawmakers agree they were abused.

However, advocates have come forward, including Mother Jones magazine, saying that earmarks were how things got done more effectively in past years. Earmarks created opportunities to fund neglected services or projects that otherwise would be overlooked; lawmakers who otherwise might vote no on bills might vote yes if earmarks for their party’s pet spending projects were included. Earmarking, they argue, offers leverage and helps pass deals that otherwise might be drawn along party lines.

This bill bipartisan bill sponsored by Rosen may very well pass under another Republican-controlled Congress, making that temporary ban permanent, but it remains to be seen whether that would be the best solution for uniting a dividing Congress.

H.R. 4783 – Veterans Deserve Better Act

Sponsor: Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-NV)

Co-Sponsors: Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-NC) and Rep. Elise M. Stefanik (R-NY)

Synopsis: Measure designed to improve veterans’ health care. It would reduce wait times for veterans by requiring that appointments through the Veterans Choice Program be made within five days and ensuring that veterans seeking care have the information they need in advance of scheduling their appointments. This bill would also require the VA to hold private contractors accountable for the care they schedule on behalf of veterans, and ensure reporting and follow-up of delayed appointments. Third, it will require prompt payment to Veterans Choice Program providers by requiring the VA to pay for or deny payment within 30 days of receiving an electronic claim or 45 days of receiving a paper claim.  It will also require the VA to pay, deny, or request additional information on any outstanding unpaid claims within 45 days of enactment.

Action: On 1/11/2018, introduced in House and referred to House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

Sponsor Comments: “In Nevada and across the nation, our veterans are experiencing delays and difficulty in receiving the quality health care they deserve,” said Congresswoman Rosen. “It is shameful that we would fail to pay for care for our veterans in a timely manner. My bipartisan bill would help strengthen the Veterans Choice Program by requiring the VA to promptly reimburse non-VA health providers, so that our veterans are no longer forced to front the bill for their medical care. This legislation would reduce wait times for veterans by ensuring appointments be scheduled within five days and with greater accountability, and provide more information to help veterans utilize the Choice Program.”

“There is no doubt that our veterans deserve far better treatment than what they have been receiving,” said Congressman Jones. “That is why I am proud to join the Veterans Deserve Better Act, legislation that I am confident will help improve issues within the Veterans Choice Program. It is time we return efficiency and timeliness to the care our brave veterans are receiving.”

Jessica’s Take: According to a release from the Rosen camp, “Delayed Veterans Choice Program billing has led to veterans experiencing adverse credit reporting and debt collection when they’ve been forced to front the bill due to delayed VA payments to Choice providers.”

In another bill featuring the bipartisan team of Rosen and Jones, Veterans Deserve Better Act would improve the Veterans Choice program that was established in 2014 to allow vets to receive medical care from community providers if they live more than 40 miles from federal facilities. However, the downfall is that veterans are experiencing extensive delays in making appointments and being reimbursed for the price of care—in effect, rendering Veterans Choice useless because they end up fronting the money themselves and waiting too long to be seen by providers. This much-needed measure addresses the gap between provider policies and Veterans Choice by requiring the VA to hold private contractors accountable for providing care in a timely fashion and making decisions on reimbursement within a month’s time. It’s a practical measure that makes sense, regardless of party, and seems to stand a good chance of passage.

S.2324 – Small Business Credit Availability Act

Sponsor: Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV)

Co-Sponsors: Sen. Joe Manchin, III (D-WV) and Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN)

Synopsis: This bill would help Business Development Companies (BDCs) deploy more financing capital to small and mid-sized businesses and provide parity on securities offerings and related rules between BDCs and other operating companies by streamlining disclosure requirements and reducing burdensome, duplicative regulatory paperwork for BDCs, while still ensuring that investors receive relevant and necessary disclosures.

These reforms would allow BDCs to raise capital in the same efficient manner as traditional operating companies, which would permit them to invest more of their dollars in small and mid-sized businesses, rather than utilizing funds for compliance costs on outdated securities offering rules. 

Action: Introduced in Senate on 1/18/2018.

Sponsor Comments: “Congress should be doing all it can to support America’s small businesses, which account for almost half of the nation’s jobs, including roughly 428,000 in Nevada alone,” said Senator Heller. “The Small Business Credit Availability Act will help ensure that small businesses owners in Nevada and across the country have the opportunity to access more capital to grow their businesses so they can hire more workers, increase wages, and spur growth in their communities. BDC companies have already helped gaming, mining and entertainment businesses in Nevada and I want more businesses to receive capital financing to grow. I’m proud to partner with Senator Manchin on this legislation and look forward to working with my colleagues to see this bill signed into law.”

“Small businesses are the heart of West Virginia. The Small Business Credit Availability Act will allow these small businesses to better compete with larger companies by increasing the investments they can make in their businesses. Empowering our small business owners to grow their businesses is good for our West Virginia economy and good for our West Virginia families and communities. I look forward to working with Senator Heller to ensure this bill becomes law,” Senator Manchin said.

Jessica’s Take: Congress created BDCs, which are organizations that invest in and help small- and medium-sized companies to grow in the initial stages of their development. Many of them are set up similarly to closed-end investment funds and are typically public companies traded on major stock exchanges. In order to qualify as a BDC, companies must be registered in compliance with the Investment Company Act of 1940. Unlike venture capital firms, BDCs allow smaller, non-accredited investors to invest in startup companies. This bipartisan bill sponsored by Sen. Heller streamline the rules for BDCs by simplifying the offering process, updating proxy rules, and expanding access to capital by changing the asset coverage ratio from the currently limited 1:1 debt-to-equity ratio, thereby enabling an increased level of risk in BDCs’ portfolios.

In November 2017, a House companion bill, H.R.4267, overwhelmingly passed, which speaks to Congress’ desire to grow small businesses and jobs. It’s very likely this Senate version will do the same.

H.R.4281 – Expanding Access to Capital for Rural Job Creators Act

Sponsor: Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-NV)

Co-sponsors: Rep. Alexander Mooney (R-WV) and Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY)

Synopsis: The Expanding Access to Capital for Rural Job Creators Act amends section four, subsection J, of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, which establishes an Office of the Advocate for Small Business Capital Formation within the Securities and Exchange Commission, to expand the focus areas of the Advocate to include rural-area small businesses. In addition, the bill would require that the issues that small businesses and small business investors encounter in accessing or providing capital to rural-area small businesses be included in an existing yearly report published by the Advocate, ensuring that Congress has the most up-to-date information to make informed decisions on how help these small businesses grow and thrive.

Action: Introduced in House on 11/7/2017, referred to House Committee on Financial Services. Committee consideration and mark-up session held on 11/15/2017, and the bill passed unanimously (60 – 0) on 11/15/2017.

Sponsor Comments: “All throughout our state people are searching for a good job that will help them provide for their families. Far too many Nevadans, especially in our rural areas, have been left out and left behind the economic growth we have seen in other areas of the country. Today I am proud that the Financial Services Committee unanimously passed my legislation that will help identify and examine the unique challenges facing rural-area small businesses in securing access to capital. By supporting these job creators in our state, we can create a path to good-paying jobs for all Nevadans and help make sure they have the tools to work towards a better life for themselves and their families. In Congress, one of my top priorities is fighting for good-paying, full-time jobs that will ensure a bright future for every Nevadan and their family.”

Jessica’s Take: In short, this bill directs the SEC’s Advocate for Small Business Capital Formation to identify the unique challenges faced by rural businesses when it comes to accessing capital. About two-thirds of new jobs in rural America are generated by small businesses. But employers in these areas have difficulty accessing new and important technology, transportation, and other services. Increasing connectivity is vital for these businesses’ growth, yet how do they afford this? They usually must turn to loans from commercial banks, yet bank lending has been tightened in recent years. This bill seeks to identify those unique challenges in accessing capital in an annual report, in order to improve this access overall and streamline the process of growing businesses and jobs—certainly a priority for this Congress, as demonstrated by a unanimous passage of this bill sponsored by a somewhat disliked Democratic representative.