As Congress returns from its July 4 recess, it faces a host of unfinished items, including some key bills for the construction industry. Among measures awaiting action are fiscal year 2007 spending bills, a rewrite of immigration policy and changes for estate taxes and health insurance. Lawmakers have a tight schedule, hoping to wrap up well before the Nov. 7 elections. A lame-duck session is a possibility.

Appropriations are must-pass bills. The House has approved nearly all of its 2007 spending bills but the Senate has a long way to go. If there’s no final agreement on some or all of the measures by Oct. 1, when fiscal 2007 starts, lawmakers will turn to stopgap appropriations or omnibus packages. Judging from spending levels contained in House or Senate  measures so far, 2007 cuts seem likely for infrastructure programs.

Bills Construction is Watching
Fiscal 2007 Appropriations House passed 10 of its 11 bills; Senate passed none of its 12.
Immigration House-Senate conference yet to start to reconcile differences. Further hearings delay action.
Estate Tax House approved expanded exemption from tax but not full repeal. Senate bid to cut off debate on full-repeal bill failed.
Small-Firm/Association House passed bill in 2005 for Health Plans association-member firms. Senate cloture vote on bill for small-business plans failed.
Source: Library of Congress, ENR

Immigration, health care and estate tax bills all face hurdles. But Danielle Ringwood, Associated Builders & Contractors’ senior director for legislative  affairs, says, “We still remain optimistic that Congress will act on all of these issues this Congress.” 

Immigration may be the most controversial issue.The House passed a bill focused on tighter border security. The Senate version has border provisions, but adds a “guest worker” plan and a way for illegal immigrants to become U.S. citizens. Congressional immigration hearings have delayed reconciling the bills. “The gap between the House and the Senate is just so large that it seems more likely, should anything get done this year, that it would happen in the lame-duck session,” says  Kelly Knott, an Associated General Contractors’ congressional relations director.

Construction groups have lobbied for bills to let firms team up to buy health insurance. The House has repeatedly passed such legislation, most recently last year. In the Senate, Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) got a measure to the floor to allow small firms to provide employees health coverage. But Enzi’s allies failed to gain the 60 votes needed to shut down a filibuster. Industry officials say Enzi wants to bring a health care bill up again this year but do not know if he’ll modify the bill to win a few more votes.

The House backed away from full repeal of inheritance taxes, voting June 22 to exempt more estates and cut the rate for others. But Senate full-repeal advocates didn’t get the 60 votes for cloture. As lawmakers returned to work, it wasn’t clear whether the Senate would go along with a tax compromise.