In late October, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) was sworn in as Speaker of the House, taking the place of John Boehner (R-OH) who not only gave up his role as Speaker but also resigned his House seat. Before leaving, Boehner helped his successor by crafting a budget deal with the House and Senate Leadership and the Administration to address the debt ceiling through March 2017. This agreement will provide Speaker Ryan with some breathing room as Congress works to conclude the annual appropriations process. Ryan also has an agreement from the various factions of the Republican Party to stop the infighting in order to give him time to govern. There is still a chance of a short government shut down around December 11, when the existing appropriations legislation expires, but this agreement makes it less likely. As you know we are hoping that a spending measure for the remainder of fiscal 2016 will provide both H-2B and Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) relief.
Meanwhile, Congress is continuing to address both of these important issues for our members. On October 29, Senators Tillis (R-NC), Mikulski (D-MD), Cassidy (R-LA) and Warner (D-VA) introduced the “Save Our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act of 2015.” On November 4, Reps. Chabot (R-OH), Goodlatte (R-VA), Harris (R-MD) and Boustany (R-LA) introduced the “Strengthen Employment and Seasonal Opportunities Now (SEASON) Act,” HR 3918. Through our leadership role in the H-2B Workforce Coalition, NALP has been very involved in the drafting of both bills. While the bills vary, both the House and Senate bills would address the key issues that employers continue to face with the H-2B program. Both bills would exempt returning workers from the 66,000 annual cap, streamline the H-2B process, provide for a fair wage formula, allow for the use of private wage surveys and address the problems stemming from the new H-2B regulations. The House bill goes further in that it would essentially remove the Department of Labor (DOL) from the H-2B process. The Senate bill includes provisions not in the House bill that would require greater coordination between the Departments of State and Homeland Security in terms of the cap count, as well as greatly public transparency about the cap numbers.
The introduction of these bills follows a recent letter sent to the Department of Labor (DOL) from Senators Burr (R-NC), Mikulski and 22 other Senators expressing concern with existing H-2B processing delays. Rep. Andy Harris sent a similar letter. A bipartisan group of House and Senate lawmakers will also be sending a letter to the Appropriations Committee leaders this week expressing support for H-2B relief in a year-end spending package.
On the WOTUS front, last week the Senate considered two measures that addressed the regulation. The Senate narrowly failed to garner the 60 votes needed to pass legislation supported by NALP, the Federal Water Quality Protection Act (S 1140). The Senate then took up and passed S.J.Res 22, Senator Ernst’s (R-IA) Congressional Review Act resolution to disapprove the WOTUS/Clean Water rule. The House is expected to take up the resolution shortly. While the President will clearly veto the measure, it does send a signal to the Administration about the continued concern over the rule. We are also watching the courts for further action related to the rule. The United States Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit recently issued a nationwide preliminary injunction that prevents EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) from implementing the rule while the court reviews the various legal matters raised in the litigation. A decision on some of those legal issues is expected in early December.
NALP will continue with our relentless advocacy, but your taking the time to express support to Congress for all of these activities is essential. You can send letters on both H-2B and WOTUS through our legislative action center.