Congress Gets Down to Work

Following the longest government shutdown in history, Congress has finished with its committee assignments and is staffing up for the next two years.

As the Democrats take control of the House of Representatives and the Republicans maintain control of the U.S. Senate, some of the top issues for this Congress will of course be funding the government for the next fiscal year, developing a large scale infrastructure spending package, health care fixes, trade agreements, possible immigration reform, and Congressional oversight.

The time is short before the Presidential election will be in full swing.

With this as a background, let’s look at a couple of those top line legislative issues:

Infrastructure is the one single issue that both parties and both branches of government want to achieve before they go off to campaign. President Trump earlier proposed upwards of $1 trillion for a comprehensive infrastructure package that would include funding for roads and bridges, ports and waterways, airports, network utility improvements, and workforce development. The scrap recycling industry stands to benefit from this infrastructure package by advancing increasing recycled content wherever possible, promoting the wider application of rubber in asphalt and exploring new uses for plastics in infrastructure. Additionally, workforce development and training would help the industry recruit more workers in the scrapyards as well as truck drivers and other technical fields. Finally, with this spending package, improvements to all modes of transportation could be possible which would result in more confidence and lower prices for efficient and reliable transportation of scrap materials.

The USMCA trade agreement between the United States, Canada and Mexico will take center stage in both Houses of Congress due to the tax revenue aspects in the revised agreement. However, this agreement will face resistance in the House of Representatives as the Democrats want to include additional environmental and labor side agreements added to the text. The Administration has submitted the text to Congress and it is unlikely the Administration will make any major modifications that would require it to go back to both Canada and Mexico. Republicans have their own concerns. The chances for ratification of the USMCA in this Congress is not assured. 

Immigration and workforce development are inextricably linked. This is proving to be a larger hurdle than anticipated for the Administration and the Congress to find mutual agreement. This is especially so with border security being the Administration's top priority. However, business and labor are both clamoring for additional training programs to prepare new workers for 21st century jobs that require significant technical training. Most ISRI members have remarked at the difficulty of hiring enough workers with sufficient technical training in all areas from welding and torching to heavy equipment operators. Every industry is reporting shortages with the low unemployment figures especially in the trucking transportation area. ISRI is partnering with the National Association of Manufacturers and the American Trucking Association to advocate for more worker training in these vital areas.

As we enter the 2020 Presidential Election with several U.S. Senators already announcing their intentions to run for president, the 116th Congress will have a very limited window of opportunity to achieve results. Legislative proposals such as infrastructure spending will require significant time and willingness to get a package across the finish line before the election season gets into full gear and little if anything further will pass. At ISRI, we will be working hard to get these and other priorities accomplished before the time runs out in 2020.


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