December 13, 2019

Washington Wire: Executive Order Supports One Voice Endorsed Association Health Plans


Executive Order Supports One Voice Endorsed Association Health Plans  

President Trump signed an executive order on October 12th looking to increase the ability for small businesses to afford health insurance. The order instructs the Department of Labor to, within 60 days, propose regulatory changes to Association Health Plans (AHPs) with the intension of expanding the definition of groups that can qualify as an “employer” under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).
Reforming AHPs will allow small businesses to buy health insurance through their national trade or professional associations, becoming part of a larger national risk pool. Currently, AHPs cannot thrive because they are subject to each state’s insurance regulations. However, with inclusion under ERISA, the federal government would exempt the plans from most state regulations, similar to the health plans of large employers operating in multiple states. For more than a decade, One Voice lobbied to pass legislation authorizing AHPs across state lines, which fell just a single vote short of passage. One Voice applauds this move and will work with the administration to provide better and more affordable healthcare options for our members.



NAFTA Talks on Hold after Difficult Round 4
In a surprise joint statement, the U.S., Canada, and Mexico announced this week a month long pause of NAFTA negotiations after a contentious and difficult Round 4 held in Washington. Since August, the three parties held talks roughly every two weeks hoping to reach an expedited agreement by December. Appearing together, the top negotiators for the three trading partners took defiant positions as the U.S. counterparts expressed frustration with several of the Trump administration’s positions.
Among its proposals, the U.S. is looking to make dispute settlement non-binding and allow NAFTA to sunset after five years unless the parties each decide to renew the treaty. Much to the concern of the auto industry, the administration introduced a formal proposal to increase the Rules of Origin for automobiles from 62.5% to 85%. Furthermore, the U.S. made a proposal that 50% of a vehicle made in Canada or Mexico be sourced from the United States. Under the current agreement, they must contain at least 62.5% combined North American content for duty free treatment.
In Washington, the fourth of seven rounds of NAFTA negotiations covered a wide range of issues as the Trump administration seeks to achieve its goal of reducing the U.S. trade deficit. Business groups, however, are beginning to worry the administration may completely withdraw from the treaty, threatening the jobs of millions of American workers, or weaken the treaty so severely that it would disrupt supply chains set up over the past two decades. Increasingly, Mexico and Canada are exploring additional trade agreements with other countries to minimize the impact NAFTA has on their economies. It is still up in the air whether the U.S. proposals are a means to further negotiations or to end them. For their part, Canada and Mexico have both stated they will not walk away from the negotiating table based on these proposals but tensions are clearly higher than ever before. Currently, the soonest President Trump can sign a new NAFTA is March 21, 2018, setting up a late summer vote in Congress.



EPA Takes First Step in Repealing Clean Power Plan
On October 10th, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to repeal the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) rule. EPA had signaled this move in a court filing in early September. The often criticized rule would have likely increased the price of electricity by 6-20% annually by the EPA’s admission but pegged as up to 30% by industry analysts. While the U.S. Supreme Court stayed its implementation in 2016, by repealing the CPP, EPA estimates it will save up to $33 billion in avoided compliance costs in 2030.
In its proposal, EPA determines the CPP exceeds the agency’s statutory authority under the Clean Air Act (CAA) because it compels regulated entities to reduce CO2 emissions by taking actions “outside the fence line.” Under this process, power companies would reduce emissions by transferring electricity generation from existing power plants to outside sources like solar or wind. The NPRM points out that this method is the exact opposite of how EPA has traditionally implemented rules under the CAA. Instead, EPA is proposing regulated entities focus on reducing emissions “inside the fence line” by making changes to existing power plants. Once the NPRM is published in the Federal Register, One Voice and parties will have sixty days to file comments.



Department of Labor Announces Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion
In response to President Trump’s Executive Order on expanding apprenticeships, on October 16th, the Department of Labor (DOL) announced members of the President’s Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion. Task Force members will identify strategies and proposals to promote apprenticeships, including those in the manufacturing industry, that address the nation’s skills gap. The administration received over four hundred applications for the twenty-member Task Force chaired by Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta. One Voice applauds the administration for addressing this issue and will keep its members up to date with the Task Force’s progress. With 350,000 manufacturing jobs currently available, One Voice has long taken a leading role in setting up apprenticeship programs for its members.



Supreme Court to Decide Jurisdiction of Waters of U.S. Challenges
While the Trump administration is currently working on replacing the overly expansive definition of “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) implemented under President Obama, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments last week on whether challenges to WOTUS should be heard in a federal district court first or move straight to the appellate level. The One Voice coalition bringing the case, is arguing before the Court that challenges should happen at the district court level while the government favors the appellate level. Business groups challenging WOTUS prefer the district courts that offer greater options on where to bring a case and a greater length of time to challenge any EPA decision.