March 19 Eggs & Issues program offers a DC View from Capitol Hill with Congressman Kind and the US Chamber
US Chamber and Congressman Kind make efforts to foster bipartisanship in Washington
On March 19, the Eau Claire Chamber of Commerce hosted its monthly Eggs & Issues program. The event was streamed via Perigon at WIN Technology and featured guests Ron Eidshaug, Vice President & Chief of Staff of the US Chamber of Commerce’s Congressional and Public Affairs Division, and John Kirchner, the US Chamber’s Midwest Executive Director. Congressman Ron Kind also joined for a portion of the event to comment on the current happenings on the US House floor. The program focused on the American Recovery Act that Congress recently passed and efforts to foster bipartisanship as well as a discussion on issues including the filibuster, infrastructure, immigration, and workforce.
The American Recovery Act
Congressman Kind is optimistic that 2021 will be a year of recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. With the American Recovery Act that was passed last week, Kind believes this will provide some short-term help for folks back home. He explained that the bill was based on listening to what people need and the challenges they are facing. It includes an extension of the Paycheck Protection Program as well as EIDL loans. Also included are additional resources to ramp up production of the vaccine and provide aid for both K-12 and Higher education to get students back in the classroom.
Kind also explained that they will be working closely with local communities to address their needs and concerns. The Rescue plan will provide Eau Claire County with over 20 million dollars and the city of Eau Claire will receive 13.4 million. While there will be some guard rails on how this funding can be used, there is also some leeway.
Although Ron Eidshaug said the US Chamber did not support the American Rescue Plan because “we would have liked to have seen a more bipartisan approach”, he said there are several good things in the plan they approved of. The Venue Recovery Plan has been slow going, but there is some stuff there now, and “as the program unfolds, we know that that’s going to be important for communities like Eau Claire. That’s a really really big deal.” The plan also provides a second draw of PPP for small businesses who have used their initial loan and expands the list of expenses that will qualify for forgiveness. Expansions to the Employee Retention Tax Credit and the reopening of the EIDL Grant Program and SBA loan program will all be of benefit to small businesses. Despite the partisan approach taken to pass the American Rescue Plan, Eidshaug is happy to see these things become available to the business community. “We certainly are going to be working to make sure we’ve got all the details out there so that the programs that are there you all can take advantage of.”
Eidshaug explained that there is also talk about using the budget reconciliation process on infrastructure. While this does not mean it will be a completely partisan exercise, the reconciliation route would make it much more difficult for compromise. In addition, the reconciliation process would also create pressure to raise corporate taxes which makes it very difficult for Chamber members, especially coming out of a pandemic. Other implications may include gas taxes and additional fees. While Eidshaug does not expect a bill on infrastructure until April or May, The US Chamber’s goal is to see one by the Fourth of July.
Kind and Eidshaug also recognized the importance of workforce in a growing economy. With baby boomers leaving the workforce, Kind believes it needs to be easier for individuals to participate in the workforce without having to neglect families. New immigration policies will also be important for the workforce. Eidshaug echoed this saying the Dreamers bill, the Agriculture Workers bill, and the Equality Act are some of the bills that the US Chamber strongly supports. While Eidshaug recognizes that these are controversial bills, he believes breaking immigration into smaller pieces, such as these proposed bills, may make it easier for immigration to move through the Senate. Eidshaug expects Congress to move through workforce after infrastructure.
Eidshaug also highlighted a bill that has already passed the US House that the US Chamber is “very concerned about” and “very troubled that it came out of the House.” He explained that the PRO-Act is a collection of bills that are strongly supported by the unions and many progressives as well as middle of the road Democrats, like Ron Kind. Although the bill has not gotten much attention in the past because the McConnell Senate was never going to let it pass, with the new Democrat majority in the Senate, especially if the filibuster were to go away, Eidshaug believes this is now a pressing issue. The bill would undermine worker rights, repeal the Right to Work laws in the 27 states that have them, require employers to share all of their employee information with the union, and entangle employers in labor disputes unrelated to their business. While Eidshaug explained no one needs to dwell on the issue, he did say, “you’re sort of in an interesting case where you’ve got a member of Congress who is a Democrat who is interested in working on business-friendly issues. I think it is important for you all to make sure he knows that you’re upset with things like votes on the PRO-Act.”
A path towards bipartisanship
Both Kind and Eidshaug agree that the two political parties need to find a path for more bipartisanship in Congress. When asked about the current environment on the US House floor, Kind said “The atmosphere is not good. It’s not healthy. It’s very polarized.” This environment makes it difficult to get tough issues done. Kind is hopeful, however, that polarized environment will soon improve at the federal, state, and local levels. He recognizes that “bipartisanship starts with dialogue and developing relationships of trust so we can join arms together.” Eidshaug applauds Kind’s efforts as well as others who have joined together to strive for more bipartisan efforts. With a 50-50 split in the Senate, he sees a lot of momentum to compromise. Groups like the G-20 composed of 10 Democrat and 10 Republican Senators are made of members outside of party leadership and these are critical to finding any kind of solution.
Eidshaug said keeping the filibuster is also important to fostering bipartisanship. He explained that “if you can get 60 Senators to agree to something, more likely than not, you can be assured that that is a pretty good deal.” And that drive to forge compromise is essential to getting things done. He also said, “if the filibuster goes away, the Senate essentially becomes ungovernable. It’s often talked about that the Senate functions on unanimous consent.” “Everyone has to agree that we want to get something done. Without that filibuster, you can grind everything to a halt.” Eidshaug explained that without the filibuster, Republicans could object to several everyday practices in the Senate to show they are unhappy. This would make it very difficult for Schumer to move legislation through the floor and for President Biden to get his agenda done. Because of this, Eidshaug believes the filibuster is essential to making sure all voices in the Senate are heard.
Looking towards a better America
Eidshaug recognizes that Americans are upset and polarized, but the local business community has the responsibility to put pressure on government officials and encourage them to stop and take a breath to find common solutions.
Despite this polarization across the country, however, Eidshaug personally feels optimistic about the future, “you go to Washington to make the country better; you don’t go to Washington to make the country worse.” While there are many different definitions of “better,” he believes that despite which party one identifies with, all have the same goal to create a better America.
Congressman Ron Kind's website
Kind: House leadership disagreements hamper progress ($Leader-Telegram)
US Chamber of Commerce website
US Chamber - Coronavirus Resources
US Chamber - PRO Act information
US Chamber - Infrastructure: Build by the 4th of July
Posted by Grace Hanson, Governmental Affairs Intern
Eau Claire Chamber
The Eau Claire Chamber of Commerce has more than 1,200 members.