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 or call us at 617-646-1000.

Karl Ivester, Founder and President of New England Shutter Mills, Appointed to 2017 President of the Builders and Remodelers Association of Greater Boston (BRAGB)

NESM.pngLAWRENCE, MA. – New England Shutter Mills announced today that company founder and President Karl Ivester has been appointed 2017 President of the Builders and Remodelers Association of Greater Boston (BRAGB) – the industry’s leading trade organization.

As President of BRAGB, Mr. Ivester will be responsible for growing membership and promoting BRAGB’s highly skilled member professionals in the home building, home improvement and remodeling fields.  He will also continue the organization’s work in maintaining the highest ethical standards, while encouraging civic and environmental responsibility in the building industry.

“I’m honored to be chosen to lead the Builders and Remodelers Association of Greater Boston this year, and I’m looking forward to working hard on behalf of our members and the entire industry,” Ivester said. “Working together as a team with my fellow directors, we can make BRAGB an even more dynamic organization with more and better resources and benefits for all of its members.”

The Builders and Remodelers Association of Massachusetts has been the region’s pre-eminent home building association since 1944. In addition to maintaining the highest standards of professional conduct for its members, BRAGB’s ongoing mission is to further social interaction and business opportunities among members and community leaders, enhance the public perception of the home building industry, promote and protect the interests and policy priorities of the industry, and to provide forums for sharing information and enhancing professional development.

Ivester founded New England Shutter Mills in 1999 – and the company has grown into the region’s leading provider of premier American-made interior and exterior shutters to home builders, design professionals and homeowners. Headquartered in Lawrence, MA – New England Shutter Mills serves all of northern and southern New England including Cape Cod and the Islands. The company has been recognized for three consecutive years by HOUZZ for its customer service, and was named Contractor of the Year in 2016 by EMNARI – the Eastern Massachusetts chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.

“New England Shutter Mills has achieved more success because of its membership in BRAGB. I want every member to have that same kind of experience and realize significant added value through their engagement with this organization,” Ivester said. “Our priorities for 2017 will be to expand our membership by demonstrating the valuable opportunities that BRAGB brings to home building professionals every day, as well as enhancing the organization’s impact as a good corporate citizen.”

Ivester is a strong advocate for vocational education and workforce training – two areas where he feels BRAGB and other industry trade groups can play an important role in positively influencing students and young adults as they consider various career paths. In 2016 Ivester chaired the EMNARI Youth Career Day – which brought over 500 students together with dozens of building and remodeling professionals. From 2006 to 2009, he served on the Board of the International Furnishings and Design Association (IFDA) and was recognized several times for his “Outstanding Contribution” to the organization and as a “Member of Distinction.” In 2014 Ivester was named one of Interise’s “Big Time Operator” award winners. He is also active in the Massachusetts Big Brothers and Sisters mentoring program, and was named ‘Big Brother of the Year’ in 1999.

“This industry absolutely has a place in the conversation about and, I believe, an obligation as advocates for quality vocational education. The future builders and remodelers studying and working in vocational schools need a better path to BRAGB,” Ivester said. “We need to reach out to the schools and get them involved, and show students a path and mentor them. I truly believe we as professional builders have an obligation to see our industry through to the next generation.”

About New England Shutter Mills

New England Shutter Mills (NESM) serves discerning home and business owners and designers who value end-to-end quality in the manufacturing and installation process. Every NESM product is built with superior craftsmanship, meticulous attention-to-detail and an extra bit of love and pride, so your shutters reflect the love and pride you have for your fine home. NESM’s commitment to customer satisfaction extends to every part of the manufacturing process. Our paints are customized to each customer’s color palette. We use only NESM-trained installers to ensure your shutters are flawlessly installed.


The Builders and Remodelers Association of Greater Boston (BRAGB), a trade Association affiliated with the National Association of Home Builders and Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Massachusetts, has represented the industry since 1944.  BRAGB has evolved into one of the leading trade associations in New England. The Association has hundreds of members that include small, moderate, and large volume builders, who construct single family, multi-family, and commercial properties, and remodeling contractors, who do projects ranging from kitchens and baths to full house renovation. Associate members represent property management professionals, sales and marketing individuals and firms, suppliers, retail and wholesale dealers, architects, engineers, land planners, attorneys, accountants, financial institutions, and real estate.

Every Organization Should Make Data Breach Preparedness Part of Its New Crisis Plan

By: Cosmo Macero Jr.

Source: 2017 Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Data Breach Notification Statistics

In an effort to support greater transparency for Massachusetts consumers, the Commonwealth’s Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation announced that its Data Breach Notification Archive is now accessible online. In 2016, over 188,000 Massachusetts residents were affected by data breaches.

State law requires that any company or other entity that keeps personal information about a Massachusetts resident notify state officials, as well as affected customers, any time that information is compromised — either by accident or an intentional act.

Data breaches not only harm consumers but also can damage the reputation of financial institutions, retail companies, hotels, and many more. Every company or organization maintaining a database with sensitive consumer or personal information must be prepared to effectively and efficiently respond to potential breaches of data. Remember, a data breach can occur from internal or external hacking, technological mishap, or an unintended error by an employee. While each situation will be unique, there are a few standard practices to have in place.

How your company can be proactive before a crisis situation:

  • Make sure your crisis communications plan addresses data breach scenarios
  • Understand what data you keep, how it is secured, and your regulatory compliance
  • Media train your executives

How your company can respond to a data breach:

  • Verify all facts
  • Assess your actions and responses from the consumers’ point of view
  • Know how you will most efficiently and quickly reach your consumers
  • The best public communications strategy following a data breach begins with the communication to your customers

a. Be transparent about the breach with customers; explain what happened and how it is being resolved; provide assurance that their concerns will be addressed and any security flaws rectified

b. Once you’ve completed those steps, the broader public communications strategy is pretty simple: tell the public exactly what you’ve done to protect your customers and address the breach.

c. In some cases this may be through the news media

How your company can recover from a data breach:

  • Keep communicating with your consumers, updating them on steps you have taken
  • Update your crisis plan and share your lessons learned with employees and other stakeholders
  • Encourage continued transparency

O’Neill and Associates helps clients proactively prepare for crisis situations, and should disaster strike, our experienced professionals are ready to serve as spokespeople and provide strategic guidance. Your reputation is on the line in a crisis situation; our services protect this valuable asset. Learn more about our services by visiting or give us a call at 617-646-1000.

CEO’s Corner

220px-Thomas_P_O'Neill_IIIDear Friend,

Our December newsletter is normally a place where we reflect on all that has happened over the past 12 months and look with optimism to the year ahead. Presidential election years have a way of sharpening differences and elevating anxiety, sometimes making thoughtful contemplation difficult. In a year marked by political animosity and division, it’s important to remember that optimism is a subjective perception. We all respond to facts through our own prism. Acknowledging that we see issues differently and that we hold the power as citizens to peacefully change government are what makes our nation what its founders envisioned 240 years ago.

When I was in elected office, I recognized that everyone serving with me was chosen by their constituents to advance certain goals and bring forward new ideas. This was also the view of my father as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and was most evident following the election of President Reagan in 1980.  Speaker O’Neill understood that the new President had earned the opportunity to attempt to enact his agenda and to let those new policies – and their results – define the debate.

With the White House and Congress unified by party, we expect quick movement across a number of policy fronts – most of which will require some degree of compromise at every level. However, the common ground of compromise is much easier when the exchange of ideas is honest and bipartisan. The influence of fake news and foreign meddling makes the notion of compromise harder, and reminds us that democracy requires vigilance and care.

We are far less amicable with our political opponents at the federal level than we were during my father’s tenure as Speaker. Fortunately for the Commonwealth, state leaders from both parties have remained focused on policy and progress, while maintaining appropriate partisanship. Advancing opportunity is usually a fundamental for elected office holders. This mindset has kept Massachusetts economically prosperous and a place of opportunity for all of its residents. Perhaps we are stronger because of our historical affinity for fair and good government. No matter the reason, we are a model more should emulate. Let’s commit to requiring the same from Washington.

On behalf of all of us at O’Neill and Associates, I wish you and your family a happy and healthy New Year.


Tom O’Neill

O’Neill and Associates Announces Promotion of Cosmo Macero Jr. to Vice Chairman

Cosmo Macero Jr.Cosmo Macero Jr. was promoted to vice chairman at O’Neill and Associates, with executive responsibility for managing the firm’s award-winning communications practice group. In his new role, Cosmo will continue to direct the firm’s public relations practice, manage client accounts and further develop business opportunities, while also providing leadership related to the strategic growth of the company and serving as a member of the company’s top management team.

For the past 11 years at O’Neill and Associates, Cosmo’s strategic public relations counsel has been instrumental in helping position and prepare local and national clients across every economic sector to make powerful and lasting impressions on community leaders, the media and the public. Clients frequently engage him for strategic public relations planning, message and content development, media relations, crisis communications, thought leadership and public awareness campaigns.

Prior to joining O’Neill and Associates, Cosmo was an accomplished business and public policy journalist. As assistant managing editor for business news, he led the Boston Herald’s Business Today section to earn top national awards for breaking news coverage and general excellence from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers in 2006. He also wrote a popular column while helping make the Herald’s business section a daily “must-read” for the region’s corporate leaders, entrepreneurs, investors and savvy consumers. For 11 years Cosmo was also highly visible as a weekly fixture on the “Heavy Hitters” political commentary segment on the Fox 25 Morning News, and for three years was a contributor to Fox 25’s business news broadcasts. Prior to his time at the Herald, Cosmo worked at the Union-News/Sunday Republican in Springfield, Mass. and the Daily Hampshire Gazette in Northampton.

Cosmo is a recognized business development and networking specialist, and currently serves as a Chapter Director of Business Network International-Massachusetts and is President of the BNI Rebounders chapter in Needham.  He lives in Belmont with his wife and two sons.

We look forward to Cosmo’s leadership and expertise as he continues to support our public relations practice and our firm’s growth.

O’Neill and Associates Announces Promotion of Public Relations Directors

O’Neill and Associates is excited to announce that public relations professionals, Alex Bloom and Cayenne Isaksen have been promoted to Senior Director roles within the public relations division.

Alex Bloom

Alex Bloom, formerly a Director, is now a Senior Director in the public relations division. In his new position, Alex will play a greater role in expanding O’Neill and Associates’ public relations practice as he works with clients to advance their communications objectives by providing strategic planning, media outreach, messaging, crisis communications, and branding. Alex has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Tufts University and resides in Boston, MA.

To read Alex’s full bio, click here.


Cayenne - cropped

Cayenne Isaksen has been promoted from Director to Senior Director within the public relations division. Cayenne provides a range of communications services including the development and implementation of public relations and digital communication strategies, media relations, marketing, messaging, and branding. Cayenne holds a dual-master’s degree in political science and public administration from Suffolk University and a bachelor’s degree from UMass Amherst, she resides in Canton, MA.

To read Cayenne’s full bio, click here.

O’Neill and Associates Announces Promotion of Hugh Drummond as Senior Vice President of Marketing

HighRes_120403_ONeill_HughDrummond-0169Hugh Drummond was promoted to senior vice president of marketing at O’Neill and Associates, taking on responsibilities for strategic marketing and communications leadership in support of short- and long-term company goals that continue to drive business expansion. Hugh first joined O’Neill and Associates’ communications division in 2007 focusing on public relations, crisis matters, and integrated campaigns for clients across all of the firm’s practice groups. He has held public relations and marketing roles in the corporate and nonprofit sectors in addition to experience in the federal government and on gubernatorial, senate, and presidential political campaigns.

Previously, Hugh was director of communications, marketing and state relations for the Massachusetts American Red Cross and a regional spokesperson on numerous Red Cross disaster relief operations. He served as senior aide to U.S. Senator Bill Bradley and led scheduling and advance for Senator Bradley’s 2000 presidential campaign. Hugh was a deputy campaign manager on Massachusetts Senator Warren Tolman’s gubernatorial campaign and held private sector public relations roles for technology companies in Silicon Valley and Seattle. Hugh lives in Winchester.

We’re excited to have Hugh lead our marketing efforts and to have his perspective and input on business development.

Federal Look Ahead

By John Cahill

webres_120403_oneill_johncahill-0108With the Republican Party holding the presidency and both houses of Congress for the first time since 2006, many believe government will be in a post-gridlock frame of mind. There will surely be quick movement on some major initiatives. However, the Congressional majorities are slim and many bills will require Democratic votes.

It’s virtually certain that the first order of business in Congress will be to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This was a central campaign theme for Republican candidates in 2016 and every year since the ACA was enacted. However, the ACA is enormously complex and it’s naïve to think that a single vote to repeal will return the health care system to a pre-ACA condition. Even within the majority, there are deep divisions on what the repeal vote will actually repeal. There’s similar disunity within industry. Some predict a repeal with delayed implementation, but that unreasonably assumes that the health care system will stay the course instead of shifting for the post-ACA world.

The entire health care sector has essentially reshaped its business model to account for ACA. The law expanded Medicaid and established individual mandates. Today more than 23 million Americans are insured because of the law, according to the Congressional Budget Office. There are now safeguards preventing insurance companies from denying people coverage over pre-existing conditions and young adults can continue to be insured on their parents’ plans until age 26. While the details of a repeal remain to be seen, the vote will set in motion a lengthy process to not eliminate, but replace the law’s most popular provisions. Replacing with even a scaled back version will still require difficult policy trade-offs and, most importantly, revenue – taxes that may no longer be in place after a repeal.

Tax reform is also likely to advance in the next Congress. Similar to the ACA repeal, details are unclear. One thing is certain and that is that tax reform will be a top agenda item for every member of the House Ways and Means Committee. Individual and corporate rates are likely to fall affecting every household and business as a result. Every step of the way, there will need to be concessions. The President-elect campaigned on a 15 percent corporate rate. Speaker Paul Ryan’s plan calls for a 20 percent rate. Both want to repatriate the $2.5 billion that corporations hold abroad. Historically, moves to lower rates require elimination of deductions. It’s also difficult to envision how such major cuts could be seen as revenue neutral to deficit hawks in both parties.

While the winter and spring will be dominated by a repeal of ACA and the beginnings of tax reform, shortly thereafter we expect Congress to focus on infrastructure. There is broad consensus that infrastructure improvements are vastly needed. However, with massive tax cuts proposed, finding new funding will be tricky. Surely there will be public-private partnerships, but it’s also possible that tax revenues gained through the repatriation of oversees money may be a source of revenue. There are also opportunities such as hypothetical “rebuild America” bonds, although investors need a decent return to make this asset attractive. For projects like airports, it’s conceivable that the new Congress could allow for more local latitude on funding sources like the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) by letting individual airports to raise the current cap on PFCs, thereby permitting new airport bonds to be issued with proceeds going to improvements. What is straightforward is that the list of projects is long and investing in our infrastructure would have major economic impact on our country.

Gridlock will no longer be the norm, but everything will require compromise beginning with the White House and Congressional Republicans. Both parties in Congress will look for common ground. Republicans will have a two-vote margin in the Senate – and a smaller margin on key committees – and Speaker Paul Ryan still must contend with a very active and conservative party base. Several in both parties have a reputation for deal making and that’s one certainty we have as the 2018 midterms approach.

2016 Salvation Army Red Kettle Campaign

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For the third straight year, donors have contributed a number of precious jewelry items to Salvation Army’s annual Red Kettle Campaign – anonymously dropping diamond rings, necklaces, rare coins, and other jewelry donations into Red Kettles across the state.

The trend started with a widow dropping her wedding ring set and a note into a Red Kettle outside Boston’s North Station – honoring her late husband’s commitment to the Army – and has grown into a phenomenon of more than 60 pieces of jewelry, and counting.

The Salvation Army depends on the proceeds of the month-long Red Kettle Campaign to fund programming all year long, using the millions of dollars raised to provide over 2.1 million meals, 200,000 nights of shelter, and provide toys and warm clothes to thousands of families in need across the Commonwealth.

But the heartwarming trend of receiving anonymous jewelry donations pushed The Salvation Army into another endeavor – jewelry sales. In November, The Salvation Army partnered with online auction house EVERYTHING BUT THE HOUSE to raise $27,000. The proceeds from each item have been returned to the community where they were donated.

The Army has continued to receive jewelry donations this year in communities all across the Commonwealth, and they hope the publicity generated by the exciting and heartwarming trend will drive overall giving.  Additionally, this year the Army has enjoyed terrific support from celebrities and public officials across the state, including Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, and Speaker Robert DeLeo, among many others who volunteered their time this year to ring the bell at a Red Kettle to raise money.