President Trumps’ Address to a Joint Session of Congress: Reactions and Unanswered Questions

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By: Jennifer Krowchun

Last night President Trump laid out before Congress and the American people a list of campaign promises and a 50,000 foot view of his vision for our country.  A number of broad ideas were presented, some very partisan and others that could find supporters on both sides of the aisle. With no specific details on the table, the President has left Congressional Republicans with the task of developing realistic legislation within the $4 trillion federal budget and that doesn’t increase the deficit.

Economy

President Trump reiterated his request that Congress draft and pass legislation that would produce a $1 trillion investment in U.S. infrastructure — financed through both public and private capital — focused on creating millions of new jobs and on buying and hiring American.  For Congress to even consider a major infrastructure investment, it will first need to address the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act.

Healthcare

Everyone can support a healthcare plan that calls for cheaper drugs and insurance costs for patients and doctors, coverage for pre-existing conditions and more resources for states to address Medicaid coverage – but the fundamental issue is finding ample funds for these programs if the Affordable Care Act is repealed. Democrats have long championed the need for paid family leave and affordable childcare and President Trump embraced this last night in an effort to portray a message of unity. Still, what is the plan to make this more than a talking point?

On the idea of Heath Savings Accounts, some see these as good policy as they require employees to plan for healthcare expenses in the future.  However these accounts are often tied to high deductible health insurance plans and affect middle class families whose budgets are already stretched thin.

Immigration

The theme of the President’s speech was “the renewal of the American Spirit.”  Immigration is a cornerstone of our country and its vast economic impacts across industry sectors needs to be recognized and addressed seriously.  Corporations, universities, hospitals, financial institutions are already dealing with the consequences of the first executive order that was halted the by federal courts.  Going forward, what will future enforcements look like and what will they cost the economy?  What will they do to our international relationships?

In the end this address was good for the President’s base as they continue to feel that they are being heard. The coming weeks should be interesting and informative as policy details emerge and budget implications become clearer.

The President’s Budget: An O’Neill and Associates Education/Refresher on the Federal Budget Process

As we continue to assess the Trump administration’s policy initiatives, there is growing anticipation surrounding President Trump’s first budget. As we approach this milestone, we thought it would be helpful to share this review of the federal budget process.

Every year the President of the United States submits a budget request to Congress that is drafted in close coordination with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The budget request outlines funding levels for all federal departments and independent agencies, including spending and revenue proposals as well as any new policies and initiatives with significant budget implications.

The Budget and Accounting Act of 1921 says that “the President submit the budget between the first Monday in January and the first Monday in February.” More recently, Presidents have traditionally sent a budget request to Congress the first week of February for the coming fiscal year, 2018 in this instance, which begins on October 1st. The budget submission is typically delayed in a new President’s first year in recognition of the complexities of transition.  Before the inauguration, the transition team indicated that we might anticipate a draft proposal or “skinny budget” from President Trump in the first 100 days. However, recent reports suggest that the Trump administration may be preparing a full budget request for as early as mid-March to late spring. This timing is not really surprising as the President’s nominee for OMB Director, South Carolina Representative Mick Mulvaney’s was only approved by the full Senate on February 16th – the longest confirmation wait for an OMB director ever according to RollCall.

More information on the agenda and funding priorities of the Trump administration will likely be revealed when the President addresses a joint session of Congress on February 28th.  President Trump’s speech will not be a formal State of the Union address. Newly inaugurated president’s often deliver a speech on their agenda and goals rather than an assessment on the state of the country. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said at a press briefing today that we can expect the President’s speech to include broad policy initiatives, focused on defining success, as well as look back at what he has accomplished the last month. Additionally the President will share some of his goals to work with Congress on healthcare, tax reform, and infrastructure.  O’Neill and Associates’ federal lobbyists will be live tweeting the speech. You can follow along at #OAPolitics and a follow up analysis will be posted to our blog as well.

Once the President’s Budget request is finally released, it is referred to the House and Senate Budget Committees and to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) for an analysis and scoring of the proposal to project the budgetary impact of policies.  With the budget request and CBO budget report, the committees each submit a budget resolution in the House and Senate, respectfully.  Budget resolutions have traditionally been submitted in early April, but we anticipate a later timeframe this year. The House and Senate each considers its own resolution before voting on and passing the resolution.  Once passed, the House and Senate each names a handful of members to a joint conference committee to negotiate a conference report – a reconciliation of any differences between the House and Senate budget resolutions. The final joint budget resolution must be approved by both the House and Senate to be binding. Interestingly, the budget resolution is not a law and does not require the President’s signature. However, it is a guide for Congress in the appropriations process. In a future blog post, we will take a more in-depth look at the appropriations process and the role of Congress, the President and even the role clients can play with former House Appropriations Committee staffer, O’Neill and Associates Vice President AmyClaire Brusch.

Development Boom’s Benefit to Boston Residents

img_6120By Chris Tracy

With new development often comes neighborhood concern. Any project that adds more density, residential units and vehicular traffic to streets can cause anxiety and fear of what’s to come from new development. Boston is no stranger to these challenges; Bostonians love their unique neighborhoods and the quaintness that each individual neighborhood has to itself.

During the past few years, Boston has undergone tremendous growth, not only in the downtown and urban core but in every neighborhood in the City (Read about Boston’s Building Boom).  At some point in the development process, every project encounters residents who care deeply about their communities and are concerned with how their community might change. Some residents view new development as only catered to a future resident, with no benefit to existing residents. This is why the Boston Planning & Development Agency (BPDA) and City of Boston staff often are met with the question from current residents: “How does this benefit me?”

Two recent Boston Globe articles (“Boston Reaps Tax Windfall from New Construction” and “Average Boston-Area Rent Falls for the First Time in Almost 7 Years”) have addressed how building new units and adding residents to the tax base can actually be a positive thing for current residents. In addition to softening tax bills for homeowners and lowering rents for renters, the new development and added tax base generates additional revenues for City services.

Every project will have supporters and detractors and messaging is central to both sides. Change is not always bad, and often times can have a tangible benefit to those who at first glance may not like the change being discussed.

To learn more about our community relations services visit our website www.oneillandassoc.com or call us at 617-646-1000.

CEO’s Corner: American Activism

220px-Thomas_P_O'Neill_III“We the People…” From our very founding, activism has been a fundamental element of the America’s DNA. Our Constitution not only declares, but protects our rights to activism—to assemble, to speak openly, to have a free press, and to choose our government. The activist spirit runs deep in Massachusetts. Colonial patriots in Boston and its suburbs rose up in 1775 to fight for freedom. Abolitionists like Amos Adams Lawrence expanded that fight in the 19th Century. Suffragists like Julia Ward Howe gave it additional meaning in the 20th Century.

In the past several decades, grassroots movements for civil rights and voting rights, worker protections, environmental protection, disabled and LGBT rights have inspired generations of Americans and changed our country for the better.

More recently the growth of the Tea Party movement and the 2016 presidential election energized  constituencies that rekindled American activism, and in turn have energized a force in response, as seen in the historic Women’s Marches in cities across the US and the world– and just last week in the response to the Trump Administration’s travel ban. I am very proud that Massachusetts continues to be a leader in so many of these initiatives.

While elections and marches are defined by messaging and voter turnout, successful movements also recognize the need to engage directly with Congress, and to seek opportunities to shape policy at the state level. The Trump Administration is only two weeks old but there has already been a flurry of executive actions and even a Supreme Court nomination. While every newly-elected President promises change, every Congress has a responsibility to vet that agenda.  And in an activist democracy every citizen has responsibility to express their support for or opposition to the direction the country is going.

Lawmaking is intentionally complex. The Founding Fathers and the legislative leaders that followed them recognized there is a purpose to process. The Congressional committee structure and House and Senate rules ensure time for thoughtful deliberation and adequate public input. Legislative delays are not always the enemy to progress, but rather an opportunity for debate. There will be votes and points of order at every turn as Congress considers repealing the Affordable Care Act, re-writing the tax code, increasing infrastructure investments, and perhaps radically amending regulations on immigration, banking, the environment, health care, and higher education. As these policy priorities are considered, legislative relationships will be critical and the voices of voters, industry and other stakeholders will be paramount.

I believe we will see a lot more American activism over the next four years. It’s what gave birth to our country and what for more than 200 years has made our country great.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker’s 2017 State-of-the-State

highres_120403_oneill_jamiedunbar-0269By: Jamie Dunbar

Having worked for two former Republican Governors in Massachusetts, I was struck by the Governor Baker’s closing remarks.  His words are a reminder of the class, collegiality and confidence we have been fortunate to witness in our great state.  At a time where our national elected leaders and political party apparatus are as divisive as they have ever been, Governor Charlie Baker made it clear that will not be the case here in Massachusetts.  Governor Baker addressed the Commonwealth of Massachusetts with his plans, commitments and strategies for the coming year.  He highlighted several accomplishments such as relocating GE’s headquarters to Boston and the efforts underway on issues ranging from economic development, combating the opioid epidemic and improving transportation infrastructure.  After extoling strides made to lower unemployment, provide predictable energy costs and improve services for children and families, the Governor spoke candidly on his vision for governing in the current political environment.  His theme was one of respect, inclusiveness and bi-partisan cooperation.  Governor Baker, a Republican in a deep blue state, has experienced high approval ratings and favorability since taking office.  He is lauded for working well with the Commonwealth’s super majority Democratic legislature and for finding areas of common ground.  While acknowledging he may not agree with legislators on every issue, the debate will be driven by respect, courtesy and compromise.  This is how the Commonwealth will be governed in his Administration.  These are not always the easiest waters to navigate, but with leaders committed to progress and civility, citizens will be better served.

Community Relations for Boston’s Building Boom

img_6120By: Chris Tracy

Boston is in the midst of what will be the biggest building boom in the City’s history, bypassing both the infilling of the Back Bay in the late 1800’s and the construction of the Prudential, John Hancock and other high spine buildings in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Large-scale real estate development through the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA)’s Article 80 process is touching not only downtown and the urban core, but every neighborhood in the City of Boston.

Boston’s population is rising exponentially due to a multitude of factors – so-called meds and eds (hospitals and universities) are as strong as ever but there is also a rapidly expanding business community moving to Boston. General Electric is the most high profile example, but there is also New Balance, Converse and Adidas. Biotech companies are moving across the river from Cambridge and Somerville as well – creating a good problem: Where are all these new residents going to live and what does the city need to do to house them?

Enter Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s ambitious goal to create 53,000 new units of housing in the city by the year 2030. Currently, Boston is the third most expensive city to live in the country behind New York and San Francisco. The supply and demand of housing is out of balance; many people want to live here but the existing housing stock is low, which drives up the prices of existing housing.

Mayor Walsh’s Administration and BPDA are aiming to create housing across all income levels to help balance out this supply and demand problem. Low, middle and high income housing is seen as a solution to level off high housing costs and not create situation, like in San Francisco, where people are being priced out. Boston is working to stay in front of these challenges so that there is enough housing to for all future residents that want to make Boston their home.

Sometimes developers and project proponents can find the approval process at the BPDA board and City’s Zoning Board of Appeals or Zoning Commission arduous and frustrating. Additionally, many long term Boston residents have been resistant to the changes presented by new development and to the changes these projects bring to neighborhoods. O’Neill and Associates works with clients to navigate the complex, strenuous process of seeking city approvals. We work closely with clients and stakeholders to establish realistic expectations around projects and manage these expectations while always advocating for smart, tasteful, sensitive and appropriate development. The Article 80 process is community driven. Concessions may be appropriate at times in order to meet opposition halfway, but the goal always remains to get shovels in the ground on suitable, positive projects that benefit the current and future residents of Boston.

To learn more about our community relations services visit our website www.oneillandassoc.com or call us at 617-646-1000.

Welcome Shakeir Gregory

gregory-shakeir-2O’Neill and Associates welcomes Shakeir Gregory as Senior Account Executive in our public relations and communications practice. Shakeir will lead digital advocacy and social media strategies for our clients. In addition, he will provide multi-channel online community management services and will be responsible for shaping the technical and strategic components of digital marketing campaigns. Shakeir will work closely with client teams to develop and implement comprehensive social media campaigns to raise profiles, build awareness on issues, and activate target audiences and further clients’ public relations and advocacy goals.

Most recently, Shakeir was the digital director for Great School Massachusetts where he planned, developed, and executed an all-inclusive social media engagement strategy. Shakeir developed crucial skills as the principal content developer and communicator across all of the organization’s online platforms which we believe will add tremendous value for servicing our clients in the always-on digital era.

Shakeir holds a bachelor’s degree in political science with a minor in communications from Northeastern University where he was president of the Northeastern University College Democrats. To learn more about Shakeir visit Our Team page.

Welcome Chris Tracy!

img_6120This month O’Neill and Associates welcomes Chris Tracy to our community relations practice. As Senior Director, Chris will provide real estate development clients with valuable counsel on a variety of issues including community outreach, municipal relations, permitting, zoning, regulatory advocacy, and licensing. He has extensive experience working with communities and developers in the City of Boston and surrounding cities and towns. Chris knows how to identify key community stakeholders while also helping clients streamline the at-times arduous approval process by cutting through red tape and bureaucracy

Chris previously served as a senior project manager for the Boston Planning and Development Authority (BPDA), formerly known as the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA), where he managed internal and external vetting processes for large-scale real estate commercial and residential development project throughout the City of Boston. His experience working across multi-agency issues concerning proposed developments and his collaboration with agencies to alleviate project concerns position him as an expert for our community relations and government affairs practice.

Chris earned his master’s in public administration from Northeastern University and a Bachelor of Arts in history from Boston College. To learn more about Chris visit Our Team page.

Reconciliation: the Capitol Hill buzzword that might just yield legislation

By: AmyClaire Brusch

There is a lot of discussion in Washington and in the news about “reconciliation.” The process is being touted as the Republicans’ key to passing all sorts of legislation including measures to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. So what is reconciliation? How does it work? Can Republicans use reconciliation to make good on the many promises that were made during this long campaign?

President Trump, along with members of the new Congress, campaigned on a platform that called for large policy changes. Some of these changes will be difficult to achieve through the normal legislative process. Getting something like tax reform or the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act would be nearly impossible under regular order. Legislating is a complex art and, when traditional methods stall, Congress looks deeply into its rulebook. In this case, the Republican majority will likely turn to the budget reconciliation process (“reconciliation,” for short) to advance top agenda items in 2017.

The budget reconciliation process was first used in the 1980s as a means of enacting spending, tax, and entitlement reform measures that the then-Senate minority would have filibustered. Under Senate rules, it only takes one Senator to hold up a piece of legislation with a filibuster (think: Ted Cruz reading Green Eggs and Ham). The only way to place a time limit on debate is with a supermajority (three-fifths of the Senate). Today, the Republicans control the Senate but only narrowly. At 52 seats, they are nowhere near the 60 needed to break a filibuster. However, some bills, namely budget resolutions, are filibuster-exempt. Since budget resolutions are protected from the Senate filibuster, so, too are budget reconciliation resolutions.

Okay, but what’s a reconciliation resolution?

At its heart, a budget reconciliation bill “reconciles” some aspect of spending, revenue, or the national debt. Because it is a budget resolution, reconciliation has no force of law but outlines what changes authorizing committees should make to the issue at hand in order to meet that year’s budget targets. Those committees then have to pass legislation detailing those changes. Finally, since that legislation is under the directive of reconciliation, it is not subject to typical House and Senate rules. As a result, it is very difficult for the minority party to hold it up with procedural moves.

So are the Republicans going to run roughshod through this Congress?

The short answer is: No. There are checks on the reconciliation process. It does not give the majority party free reign. First, the very nature of reconciling the budget offers limited possibilities to do so. There are three applications eligible for budget reconciliation – spending, revenue, and debt limit – but each of those applications can only be used once per budget. Once Congress has taken each of those three bites at the apple, it cannot continue to “reconcile” the budget. That is one reason the process is usually saved for big items. Second, the president can always veto a reconciliation bill, as President Clinton did with the tax relief act in 1999. Given that congressional Republicans are not necessarily in line with President Trump, they will need to be careful with what reconciliation bills they send to his desk. Finally, the Senate’s “Byrd rule” prevents the majority from throwing everything but the kitchen sink into reconciliation bills. The rule stipulates that the items within the bill must actually reconcile some part of outlays or revenues and be within the jurisdiction of the authorizing committee receiving the reconciliation instructions.

Why doesn’t this process come up more often?

The budget reconciliation process is not often used. That’s partly because, in order to ensure its success, the House, Senate, and presidency really need to be occupied by the same party. Otherwise, one chamber could simply ignore the legislation or the president could veto it. The aforementioned restrictions also make the process challenging to wield. Reconciliation is, by its very nature, not easy. Though a congressional staffer for over a decade, I only saw the reconciliation process used successfully a few times (including the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts and Affordable Care Act).

Part two of this post will focus on reconciliation and specific legislation.

To learn more about our federal relations services visit our website www.oneillandassoc.com or call us at 617-646-1000.