On July 10, hundreds of contractors will descend on Capitol Hill to meet with members of Congress and weigh in on issues vital to the construction industry. While this scene may play out annually at Associated Builders and Contractors’ (ABC
) Legislative Conference
, this is no ordinary year. More than one-fifth of the House of Representatives will stand for re-election for the first time in November. Most of these incumbents were elected with strong merit shop support, and many are facing unfamiliar headwinds that markedly impact their voting decisions.
Meanwhile, the presidential election looms large over what is left of the legislative calendar, effectively punting the most politically painful decisions until November and beyond, with show votes serving as proxy for the ongoing campaign. Finally, barring congressional action, the United States is approaching a half-trillion dollar “fiscal cliff” at year’s end, representing the single largest tax increase in history.
With the heady days of the Tea Party-fueled midterm elections a distant memory, 86 Republican members of Congress have gone from insurgents to incumbents, riding out the inherent political parity of a presidential year. Once-a-decade redistricting helped to shore up many candidates, but others find themselves in less friendly territory. This leaves some avowed conservatives and erstwhile defenders of free enterprise in the political crosshairs, rendering them open to persuasion on key issues such as union preferences in government contracting.
With a year of legislative seasoning under their belts, the political rubber has finally met the policy road, and it is more important than ever to get their attention. Simply put, there is no more compelling way to take action than to visit members of Congress in Washington, D.C., with fellow construction executives.
The battle for the White House creates a tense backdrop for the remainder of the 112th Congress. Given the unprecedented actions taken by the current administration with one eye keenly fixed on 2012, it is chilling to think what four more years would look like untethered from future electoral considerations. After $5 trillion in additional debt, sweeping government mandates in the name of health care “reform,” extra-constitutional packing of the National Labor Relations Board, incessant regulatory overreach by executive departments and agencies, and repeated appeals to class warfare, it is difficult to fathom the implications of a second Obama term.
Taking a stand involves political advocacy during the next six months, but just as important is the remaining opportunity for a legislative bulwark. While the prevailing view is that the Senate gains will tilt toward Republicans, this is in all likelihood the GOP’s high-water mark in the House.
Perhaps most alarmingly, the nation is on a collision course with an unprecedented fiscal reckoning in 2013, and the conventional wisdom is these issues will be tabled pending the outcome of the election. Dubbed “Taxmaggedon,” this scenario entails $200 billion in tax increases to wage earners across the spectrum, the expiration of $75 billion in business tax incentives, multiple new wealth surcharges to finance the health care law, the return of the estate tax to its highest level and a one-third increase in the capital gains rate.
What’s more, this will occur amid other politically unpalatable events: tens of billions of dollars in defense “sequestration” cuts, expiration of the payroll tax holiday and, most notably, the rapidly approaching debt ceiling. Last summer’s furious debate over a proposed increase in the nation’s borrowing limit led to a protracted stalemate, preventing a government shutdown only with the eleventh-hour agreement to a deficit reduction “super committee.” Many conservatives already harbored ill will over the debt limit deal, and the colossal failure of the super committee and its resulting defense spending cuts will color the negotiations going forward. Given the off-year intensity with relatively low stakes, it is difficult to imagine the upcoming fight considering the campaign circumstances and the gravity of the collateral issues. Now is the time to tell Congress to do its job and forestall these crippling contingencies.
It has become a quadrennial cliché to ascribe superlative importance to each election, but this truly is the campaign of a lifetime. For that very reason, the remaining legislative year represents a critical opportunity for both seasoned grassroots activists and those who are new to the political scene to join the fight for free enterprise at ABC’s Legislative Conference.