Three questions with John Cahill, Vice Chairman, Federal Relations

webres_120403_oneill_johncahill-0108In the State of the Union, President Trump called for “at least 1.5 trillion in investment.” Is there a path forward for his plan?

The framework of an infrastructure plan was shared in the media a few weeks ago and the reaction to it was quite reserved on both sides of the aisle. Historically, infrastructure is one area that gets bipartisan support, but that will prove difficult in the current political environment. The framework would leverage $200 billion in direct federal dollars over 10 years with the remainder of the $1 trillion plus investment coming from states, municipalities, and the private sector. In practical terms, most Congressional authorizations don’t extend 10 years. Furthermore, most cities and states don’t have these extra dollars available. Mayors and Governors would have to raise tolls or other fees to find the revenue. Rural states with smaller populations and fewer users of highways or transit systems would be disproportionally affected. The formula doesn’t really make sense in its current form – what governor is going to raise fees in order to get a smaller share of federal infrastructure dollars? We will be monitoring the Committees and Subcommittees as they work to craft actual legislation. With 2018 being an election year and so much partisanship around federal spending already, it’s difficult to see a comprehensive infrastructure package moving forward.

We are quickly approaching the next deadline to fund the government. Will we have another shutdown?

The upcoming deadline to reach a new deal to keep the government open is February 8. There is increasing talk of another stopgap measure that would fund the government for another 30 days – and the possibility that this one-month-at-a-time plan may be what the Republicans continue to do going forward. There’s discord over this within the Republican majority, however. Freedom Caucus members want more on the table to strengthen budget caps and restrict immigration. Another shutdown is possible, but it’s more likely that we will see a short term deal instead. Another factor is the impact of tax reform on the debt ceiling. The revenue shortfall will likely require action to raise the debt ceiling in addition to finding agreement on a Continuing Resolution.

There’s talk of the House of Representatives possibly restoring the practice of earmarks. What’s happening here?

Recently there’s been a flurry of comments and activity on whether it’s time to bring back earmarks or Member-directed spending. The House eliminated earmarks in 2011 following several instances of excesses and political pressure to reduce federal spending. Some believe that the elimination of earmarks contributed greatly to partisan divide as Members were no longer compelled to make deals with one another in order to secure funding for projects in their districts. It’s too soon to tell what will happen, but we expect that the possible return of earmarks will get serious consideration before the November elections. Even so, the outcome is uncertain.

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.

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.

H-1Bs are in the news right now. So, what are they?


By: Carlos Iturregui

H-1B work visas may see a major overhaul in the near future. At last week’s news briefing, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said that possible executive action on work visas “is part of a larger immigration effort” under consideration by the new Administration.

Proponents see H-1B holders as beneficial to American industry, especially companies in the technology and science sectors. Opponents see the program as a way to displace American workers with lower-paid H-1B visa holders.

H-1Bs are championed by not only by tech/engineering industry but also academic and medical communities, all of which are vital to the Massachusetts economy. This category of visas applies only to highly skilled workers with degrees. Another category of visas – the H-2B – applies to seasonal non-agriculture workers (such as hospitality).

Industry should keep a watchful eye for changes to either visa type.

Historically, increasing H-1B visas has been a bipartisan issue. H-1Bs are subject to a Congressionally-mandated annual quota cap. Raising the annual cap and increasing resources for approving H-1B visas are regularly included in both Republican and Democrat bills.

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services received over 236,000 petitions for the 65,000 H-1B FY 2017 quota during the standard five day filing period between April 1st and April 7th, 2016. That was the highest number of petitions that USICS has ever received for H-1B quota cap since its inception. 2016 was the fourth consecutive year that the visa cap was reached in five days

Some general facts about H-1Bs:

  • H-1Bs are capped annually at 65,000 visas (of which 1,400 are reserved for Chile and 5,400 for Singapore – pursuant to Trade Agreements)
  • An additional 20,000 are exempt from the cap providing that the visa applicant has completed master degree in an approved institution or higher grade
  • H-1Bs are valid for three years and renewable/extended for an additional three
  • H-1Bs are the only visa with expedited processing
  • Visa holders are employer sponsored
  • Families of visa holders can come to the US, but they cannot work. Accordingly, most of these visa holders enter the country alone and remain separated from their friends and families
  • In FY 2015 70 percent of H-1Bs went to Indian immigrants with an average age of 25-34 years old and a median salary $70,000s/annual

AICUM, Governor Baker and State Senator Donoghue Celebrate New College Savings Incentive

At its 12th Annual Dinner, the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in Massachusetts (AICUM) celebrated the Commonwealth’s new 529 College Savings Plan incentive for families which was passed by the Legislature this past summer. AICUM represents 58 private, non-profit colleges and universities throughout Massachusetts.

Governor Charlie Baker received AICUM’s “Committed to Access” Award for advancing a 529 tax deduction as part of his Economic Development bill and State Senator Eileen Donoghue, the legislative sponsor of the 529 provision, delivered keynote remarks. The 529 College Savings provision of the Economic Development Bill was signed into law by Governor Baker in August. A video testimonial on the story of the 529 legislation can be seen on YouTube, here.

The new 529 College Savings provision offers Massachusetts families a new tax incentive for contributions to a prepaid tuition or college savings program established by the state. Single filers will be able to deduct up to $1,000 while married people filing jointly can deduct up to $2,000.

CEO’s Corner: The Oval Office is Not The Apprentice Board Room

220px-Thomas_P_O'Neill_IIIAmericans will tune in tonight to the final presidential debate.  While voters should hear a debate on the many important topics that have gone unaddressed in previous debates, pre-debate shenanigans suggest that it may be more of the same with more discussion about the guests in attendance than the future of our nation.

Fox News Sunday anchor Chris Wallace will serve as the moderator for tonight’s debate, marking the first time in the network’s twenty-year history that a Fox News journalist has taken the helm of a general election presidential debate. Despite Fox News’ conservative reputation, expect Chris Wallace to press both candidates hard on hot-button issues such as foreign policy, national security and the economy, among others.

One thing is clear: the 2016 presidential election has been predictably unpredictable.  Over the course of the election, it seems as if a day doesn’t pass without some twist or turn sending the media, political establishment and electorate into a frenzy. The top of the ticket is affecting down ballot races as well, with control of the Senate – and potentially even the House of Representatives – also up for grabs. For most of the campaign, candidates have tried to walk a fine line with voters, navigating a polarized and volatile political climate. During these final remaining weeks and with early voting underway, voters and candidates must finally take a stand.

For many of my colleagues who are campaign veterans and former reporters, and even for casual observers, it’s easy to allow this election to be fully consuming. It fills the 24-hour news cycle on every level, even including the sports pages. And, while campaigns are always focused on Election Day, I think for this cycle we are all intensely counting down the days – 20 to be exact – until this spectacle is over and when we can comfortably check our Twitter and Facebook feeds again. While Election Day will produce clear winners and losers, it will not clear the air. Even though Hillary Clinton surpasses Donald Trump when it comes to favorability, neither of the candidates is broadly liked, as evidenced by a litany of polls conducted during the course of this election.

Historically, we fixate on the first hundred days of a new president’s administration. This election will demonstrate the special importance of the time period that precedes those first 100 days. Both parties will move at unprecedented speed to set their future course, place their personnel, and activate ground games to advance their agendas. There’s even a chance that if Congress flips, President Obama will be in a position to accomplish some final goals before he leaves office. By Inauguration Day, the playbook will have already been set.

For the new or returning House and Senate majorities, there will be a certain shakeup in committee leadership, making policy issues even more consequential. The Senate is currently comprised of 54 Republicans, 46 Democrats, meaning five seats are need to flip control and at present anywhere from six to eight Senate races are viewed as competitive. The House is made up of 246 Republicans, 187 Democrats with 30 seats needed to change control. There are more than 30 competitive House races, about half of which are toss-ups. In an unpredictable election year, anything is possible. And, the size of the new majority will directly impact the prospects of the next president’s policy agenda.

Among the policy priorities for 2017 that will likely see action are tax reform, Medicare, the Affordable Care Act, banking reform, foreign trade, wages and jobs, and funding for transportation infrastructure. Each one brings opportunities and consequences for every corporation, institution and organization. Exercising your right to vote on November 8th is just plain commonsense. Before you cast a vote, think about what a vote for Donald Trump means for the future of democracy and the principles on which this great county has been built. Yesterday, President Barack Obama exacted his latest rebuke of Donald Trump’s behavior and once again questioned whether or not he truly understands the kind of temperament that is necessary as president.

“You start whining before the game’s even over?” President Obama said. “You don’t have what it takes to be in this job because there are a lot of times when things don’t go our way, or my way… I’d invite Mr. Trump to stop whining and go try to make his case to get votes.”

As Mr. Trump prepares – or does not prepare – for tonight’s debate, I have one piece of advice to offer: it’s time to get serious about this election and understand that the behavior exhibited in The Apprentice Board Room is not fit for the Oval Office.

2015-2016 Massachusetts Legislative Recap and Look Ahead

July 31st marked the informal end of the 2015-2016 legislative session, and lawmakers rushed to churn out veto overrides and landmark legislation before heading out for summer vacation and reelection campaigns in the lead up to November. In a final session that ran into the early morning hours of Monday, August 1st, Massachusetts legislators were able to compromise on major bills dealing with the ride-for-hire industry, economic development, and energy, but were unable to pass anything dealing with non-competition agreement reform.

Ride-for-Hire Regulation – The House and Senate were able to agree to a compromise bill regulating ride-for-hire services like Uber and Lyft. The bill requires a two-tiered background check system for drivers, but stops short of requiring fingerprinting, a provision strongly supported by the Commonwealth’s taxi drivers. The bill creates a path for the transportation network companies (TNC) to begin picking up at Logan Airport and the Boston Convention Center, which had not been allowed up to that point, and includes a 20-cent ride surcharge to benefit local infrastructure as well as state programs.

Renewable Energy – Just under the wire, the Legislature was able to pass a compromise energy bill that would require the state to purchase significantly more energy from renewable sources, especially offshore wind producers.  Advocates and industry representatives had a more ambitious agenda than was reflected in the eventual law, so expect this to remain an issue next session.

Economic Development – The $1 billion economic development bill passed in the waning hours of the session, and included funding for a wide array of projects such as improvements in infrastructure, investment in workforce development and low-income housing. The compromise bill, however, omitted several provisions that were included in original versions of the bill. Among those were a proposed tax on Airbnb and other home rental services, an expansion of the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) as well as language that would authorize the Massachusetts Lottery to expand mobile gaming.

No Deal on Non-Compete Agreements – Although the House and Senate both passed their own versions of legislation that would govern the use and applicability of non-competition agreements, the two bodies were unable to come to a final compromise in the closing hours of the session. Ultimately, it was the issue of so-called “garden leave,” which would require employers to pay former workers not to work, that prevented a final agreement. This perennial issue will surely come up again next session.

The 190th General Court will convene on January 4, 2017 for its next two-year legislative cycle.

For more information about O’Neill and Associates state government relations services, click here.

A Week In Review: Debate Fallout Exacerbates Challenges for Trump Campaign

By Peter Ubertaccio

2016-10_ubertaccio_0087Donald Trump’s slide in the polls seems to confirm conventional wisdom that his widely panned performance last Monday has doomed his candidacy.

That’s both right and wrong.

Trump turned in one of the most dismal debate performances in modern times.  It began a week of negatives featuring the body shaming of a former Miss Universe, reports that he hasn’t paid income taxes in over a decade, and an order for the Trump Foundation to cease its activities.

The debate seems like the high point of the week.

I was lucky enough to be inside the debate hall where the audience reactions reaffirmed what was happening across the country.  Though we couldn’t see the split screen that the viewing audience saw, and thus missed the important contradictions between Trump’s words and Clinton’s reactions, it was notable that Trump’s outbursts largely landed like thuds.

Though scattered applause occurred, I mostly saw heads shaking in disbelief as Trump harangued his way through 90 minutes.  That’s telling because the campaigns both had an equal number of tickets to the debate.  Clinton and Trump supporters were scattered throughout the hall seated next to each other.  Hofstra students and those who attended as guests of the Commission on Presidential debates helped to fill up the hall.

Moderator Lester Holt tried to discourage applause or boos but a partisan and political junkie crowd is not easily cowed into silence.

Polls released yesterday by CNN confirm the collapse.  Trump and Clinton were virtually tied in early September.  Now she’s pulling away.  States like North Carolina remain tight but he has been unable to fight back in Virginia, Colorado, or New Hampshire.  He cannot get to 270 electoral votes without Florida and Clinton continues to lead in the Sunshine state.

Indeed every post debate poll shows a growing lead for Clinton.

It’s tempting to say that the debate has caused this.  But it’s much more complicated.

Recall that Mitt Romney bested Barack Obama in their first encounter.  John Kerry was widely viewed as the winner in all three of his debates with George W. Bush. Ronald Reagan’s first debate with Walter Mondale was so dismal for the incumbent that Reagan’s mental health became the subject of national conversation.

Obama, Bush, and Reagan were not ultimately harmed by debates as the fundamentals of the race favored them.   This race favors Clinton.

The debate magnified the doubts that many have held about Donald Trump for a very long time.    Voters have by wide margins questioned Trump’s temperament.  Last week’s debate confirmed their doubts.

It’s this long standing concern about his caustic style and chaotic campaign that is harming Donald Trump, not his poor debating skills.

Professor Peter Ubertaccio is Professor Politics, a blogger at MassPoliticsProfs, and a political analyst. He serves as the Associate Dean for Interdisciplinary Programs and as Director of the Joseph Martin Institute for Law & Society at Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts. Follow him on Twitter at @professoru for more of his political insight and analysis. 

Three Keys to Hillary Clinton’s Big Debate Win

By Suzanne Morse


By all objective measures, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton scored a decisive victory last night in the first presidential debate, the biggest moment yet of the 2016 presidential campaign.  Both an instant poll by CNN and a Public Policy Polling survey rated her the overwhelming winner (62 percent vs. 27 percent and 51 percent vs. 40 percent, respectively); a focus group by pollster Frank Luntz gave the win to Hillary Clinton; and even the investor markets indicated a clear victory for the former First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State.

So, what were three keys to her winning strategy?

  • Managing Sky High Expectations – Last night, Hillary Clinton pulled off something that is nearly impossible: she not only met high expectations, she exceeded them. Most observers believed that the debate was Clinton’s to lose, which is a risky position to be in.  But in the days before the debate, the Clinton campaign directly took on those expectations, convincingly making the case that Trump should not be graded on a curve.  The campaign was helped in this effort by Trump’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, who said the day before the debate that Trump is the “Babe Ruth of debating.”

    Once she took the debate stage, Clinton performed well – she seemed presidential, and in command of both facts and temperament. She answered difficult questions swiftly and decisively, and took the countless opportunities that Trump gave her to put him on the defensive.  All in all, it was an excellent performance from Hillary Clinton across the board.

  • Winning the Social Media Game – Debates are no longer just won or lost by how reporters discuss them. Social media has taken on an increasing importance in shaping the debate narrative.  According to Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies’ Illuminating 2016 project, Hillary Clinton won the “share of voice” contest on social media last night.  This influenced the narrative of the evening, and will likely continue to impact the fallout from the debate.
  • Walking the Gender Tightrope – Somewhat lost in all of the hoopla last evening was the fact that Hillary Clinton is the first woman to ever be in a general presidential debate. Fairly or not, Clinton had to manage the many stereotypes that are applied to women in public positions, from her onstage demeanor and her clothing choices to the tone of her voice.  From the moment she walked on stage, Clinton looked and sounded presidential and assertive while avoiding most gender traps.

Make sure to tune in to the next debate, which will feature Vice Presidential candidates, Senator Tim Kaine and Governor Mike Pence and moderated by Elaine Quijano of CBSN.  It will be held on Tuesday, October 4th at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia.

Suzanne Morse is a vice president in O’Neill and Associates’ communications division, specializing in media relations, messaging and branding, and strategic advocacy campaigns. Connect with Suzanne Morse on Twitter @sznnmorse or by email at

CEO’s Corner: July/August 2016

220px-Thomas_P_O'Neill_IIIIn 2015, the number of mass shootings in the United States outnumbered the days in the year – not to mention the hundreds of people injured each day from gun violence. From Baton Rouge and Orlando to Newtown and Virginia Tech, the carnage and innocent lives lost in mass shootings have become an all too frequent part of the national news cycle.

As a result, the question of how to stop the spread of preventable gun violence has once again emerged as a top policy issue. Despite a 25-hour sit-in by House Democrats, a 15-hour filibuster by Senate Democrats, and a bipartisan compromise proposal in the Senate, Congress has been unable to enact any legislation to increase gun safety. In the midst of this void, some states are taking steps to try and stem the wave of gun violence that claims the lives of more than 33,000 Americans every year.

Here in Massachusetts, Attorney General Maura Healey announced a new effort to enforce the Commonwealth’s ban on assault weapons. This July, she sent a directive to gun makers in Massachusetts ceasing the sales of “copycat” or “duplicate” assault rifles. The Commonwealth is one of just seven states and the District of Columbia that bans the sale of high-powered assault rifles like those used in recent mass shootings. And enforcement of these bans works too – the rate of gun fatalities in Massachusetts is one of the lowest in the country.

Unfortunately, gun manufacturers have been circumventing Massachusetts law by making and marketing copycat assault weapons to Commonwealth buyers under the label “state compliant.” The Attorney General’s office estimates that about 10,000 copycat assault rifles were sold in the Commonwealth in 2015 alone. While this commonsense directive is not a new law, it closes a critical loophole that gun manufacturers have exploited for over a decade.

Attorney General Healey’s courageous and reasonable approach on gun control has had a ripple effect nationally. She has earned support from Former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, the entire Massachusetts delegation, 5 former Massachusetts Attorneys Generals, many Commonwealth mayors, law enforcement, and a whole host of public health and community leaders, among countless others. She has also won praise from assault weapon opponents, who are desperately seeking ways to stop the spread of these weapons.

However, Attorney General Healey has also – predictably – been the subject of hysterical attacks from the gun lobby and second amendment activists, many of which don’t even live in Massachusetts. A quick Google search shows how the National Rifle Association and others are leveraging Attorney General Healey’s enforcement effort to raise money, while also personally attacking her with language so offensive and reprehensible that it is unfit to print or repeat.

Rather than contributing solutions to help prevent gun violence, this vocal minority has been hurling personal attacks in an attempt to mislead the public about what the directive does and does not do. Attorney General Healey deserves credit for her courage and willingness to truly enforce the laws that protect our citizens and ultimately save lives. That spirit and commitment is especially important in this current climate and election cycle.