Business urges GOP not to waste final days

Democrats may believe they have a new mandate, but for a bit longer Republicans will keep the majority.

Democrats may believe they have a new mandate, but for a bit longer Republicans will keep the majority.

A variety of business groups, many of which bet big on the GOP in the midterm elections, are urging their favored party to use the time wisely, as they consider the ramifications of the midterm elections on their interests (see related story, p. 16).

Congressional leaders pledged to be bipartisan, but the test for that may not come until after Thanksgiving as congressional leaders focus on leadership races later this week before breaking again. Meanwhile, lobbyists representing a spectrum of industries mounted last-ditch campaigns to push their priorities through before the switch.

The House began a series of suspension bills yesterday and was set to debate a trade pact with Vietnam, one business priority that may win congressional approval this week.

Senators, meanwhile, debated the military construction and veterans’ affairs spending bill yesterday. As for the rest of the week, “votes will occur,” according to the whip report. That could include a civil-nuclear cooperation deal with India, backed by a number of American companies that stand to benefit in the exchange.

“There is a lot more give rather than take on both sides after the election,” said Sanjay Puri, chairman of the U.S.- Indian Political Action Committee. He said he believed there was a “70 percent” chance the Senate may take up the “civ-nuke” bill this week, and that it would pass.

The business wish list for the lame duck is extensive, as members failed to get much accomplished in the tense weeks before the midterm elections.

It includes expanded offshore drilling, tax breaks for research and development and other targeted areas, and a bio-terrorism fund.

In a familiar fight, doctors are pushing Congress to fix a glitch in the formula that if left uncorrected would mean Medicare reimbursement payments would sharply drop after Jan. 1. The American Medical Association announced a year-end push yesterday to “gain immediate congressional action to stop the cuts.”

A healthcare information technology bill, close to passing prior to the recess, is another possibility, although privacy concerns may again delay the measure.

After an election that featured a flood of negative advertising, leaders in both parties have pledged a new spirit of bipartisanship leading into the holiday season.

A research and development tax break backed by a broad coalition “is a great issue for both parties to show they can work in a bipartisan manner,” said Monica McGuire, executive secretary of the R&D Tax Credit Coalition, which includes the National Association of Manufacturers and high-tech groups.

“This is a motherhood, apple pie issue,” McGuire said. The group is holding a press conference today on the subject.

The credit expired 11 months ago and is part of a broader tax extender package. Most lobbyists believe it is unlikely Congress will approve the package this week, although they add that there is a good chance it will pass after Thanksgiving, as will many of the appropriations bills. There are 10 outstanding.

On spending, Congress is set to pass a continuing resolution that would fund the government at the current appropriated levels until Dec. 8.

Free-trade backers, who may face more resistance in the new Democratic Congress, urged members to take up a bill that would grant permanent normal trade relations, or PNTR, with Vietnam.

The Emergency Committee for American Trade, a business group, sent a letter yesterday to congressional leaders, urging them to take up the bill “as early as possible this week.” The Business Roundtable said the same in a letter it sent Capitol Hill.

In addition to the Vietnam pact, the other major bill the Senate could take up is the civil nuclear deal. Andrew Parasiliti, vice president of Barbour Griffith & Rogers International, which represents the Indian government, called the bill the “defining issue in economic relations between the United States and India.”

“There is a sense of urgency in both Washington and New Delhi about getting this legislation passed this year, during the lame duck session,” he said.

Energy producers and manufacturers are also pressing Congress to pass a Senate bill that would expand drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Some House Republicans have been holding out for their own, more expansive bill. But a business coalition urged support for the Senate bill, believing it had the best chance of passing. Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is supporting the bill.

“It’s now clear that time has run out and S 3711 is the only viable option for legislation this year that can bring more desperately needed natural gas to market,” said Jack Gerard, the president and CEO of the American Chemistry Council, only hours after it was clear Democrats had won the majority in the House.