The Kentucky Chamber on Monday hosted its 2nd annual Congressional Forum to allow the state’s business leaders to hear from their members of the U.S. House and Senate on the state of things in Washington, D.C.
The following post includes the remarks from many of the members of Kentucky’s U.S. Representatives.
Kentucky’s newest member of Congress, U.S. Rep. James Comer, spoke to the state’s business community about the progress seen federally because of the new atmosphere in Washington and what work is yet to be done.
Comer highlighted regulatory reform as an area where huge improvements are being made in Washington. Because of previous regulations, Comer said, the economy had stalled. But he said he feels the new attitude and changes in regard to regulations show in improved job numbers and growth in business across the country.
The battle over health care reform, Comer said, has been not covered well in the media. And while there is work still to be done on the issue, Comer says he believes the bill passed by the House is a step in the right direction, especially when it comes to how pre-existing conditions are handled.
Tax reform, Comer said, will get done and will not be revenue neutral and will be a strong package. Comer said he looks forward to working with the U.S. Chamber and other business organizations to ensure any tax reforms will help grow jobs and the economy.
Comer also applauded the work of Kentucky’s legislature for passing pro-business legislation and improving the business climate in the state in order to keep the “best and brightest” and create jobs. The Kentucky congressman said Congress is also working on passing more business-friendly legislation and highlighted the struggles of the close numbers in the U.S. Senate on getting big reforms passed. However, Comer said if anyone can get things done in this environment, it is U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
As for the drama in Washington, Comer says he doesn’t understand why President Donald Trump is going after Senator McConnell on Twitter as it hurts the Senate’s ability to pass important legislation. However, while Comer said he doesn’t expect the tweeting to stop, he does feel the president’s agenda will help move the country forward and he will continue to work hard to see passage of those priorities.
The lone Democrat of Kentucky’s federal delegation, U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, started his remarks by highlighting the differences in the Washington environment this year than when he spoke at the Chamber’s forum last August before the election of President Trump.
Yarmuth said the country is in unchartered territory with this administration and stated he has great concerns with the way things are being handled at the federal level. The congressman joked that he now understands why the Ringling Brothers got out of the circus business, comparing the state of affairs in Washington to a circus and saying that there is currently no compromise and Democratic voices are being shut out.
Because of this environment, Yarmuth said, issues like health care reform and tax reform will continue to struggle to see passage as he feels Democrats are being left out of the process. He added that his caucus will come to the table and help on issues like fixing the debt ceiling and keeping the government open but does not see much room for progress in other areas.
Yarmuth pointed to his friendships and positive working relationships with many Republicans in Washington and said the reason nothing can get done in terms of compromise comes down to the involvement of outside groups from both sides. Campaign fundraising stalls progress on that front.
On policy work, Yarmuth said tax reform is going to be a much harder issue to tackle than health care and expressed doubt that passage can be seen. In terms of tax reform he could see some compromise on, Yarmuth pointed to lowering the corporate income rate. However, he does not see how the numbers can work out on lowering the individual income tax rates.
When it comes to a federal budget and the desire of Republicans to cut government spending, Yarmuth pointed to the large dollar amounts that come directly into Kentucky through the federal budget and said it would have a significant impact in many areas across the commonwealth as many Kentuckians rely on government assistance.
Kentucky Congressman Brett Guthrie shared his perspective on the failure of the health care bill earlier this year. He noted the desire of many to move a bill quickly this past spring, but described some of the challenges to getting the votes needed. He also pointed out that many citizens didn’t support the bill but noted that there needed to be more communication about what the changes were.
Policy makers were focused on ensuring care for pre-existing conditions, allowing young adults to remain on their parents’ plans, and avoiding caps on benefits. However, maintaining all the mandates would’ve perpetuated the problem of higher premiums or deductibles.
Moving forward, Congress must deal with the challenges of the Affordable Care Act, notably, the fact that insurers are pulling out of the marketplace. He explained that single payer method isn’t the solution to the problem because it will stifle innovation. Rep. Guthrie explained that innovations in health care such as those to treat diabetes and hepatitis are revolutionary and that competition drives the innovation and policy must not interfere.
Finally, Congressman Guthrie pointed to the need to better educate the public on critical policies moving forward. He said that if they can pass something to address the health care challenges and take on tax reform and infrastructure investment it will be a successful session of Congress and a success for the president. But there needs to be one team focusing on the policies and on communicating them.
Neil Bradley, senior vice president and chief policy officer of the U.S. Chamber, kicked off the speaking schedule with an update on federal policy and said Kentucky “punches above its weight” when it comes to the state’s federal delegation with members like U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and others playing a large role in policy making in Washington.
Bradley said things in Washington are not as bad as cable news would lead you to believe. Regulatory reform, health care, infrastructure, and tax reform are all issues Bradley pointed to as ones important to business that are working their way through Congress.
In terms of what the U.S. Chamber would like to see out of federal tax reform, Bradley pointed to lower overall tax rates, ways to encourage more investments, and permanency as points the business community will be looking to see in a tax reform package. Bradley said he expects that tax reform language could be seen as early as October.
Bradley also pointed to the workforce as a key issue to the business community and highlighted the U.S. Chamber’s work on the issue and hopefully launching a new apprenticeship program to address some of the country’s workforce needs.
Kentucky Chamber Vice President of Public Affairs Ashli Watts spoke to the group about the Chamber’s role in Washington and the newly-released federal agenda which lays out the commonwealth’s business priorities at the federal level.
Watts noted areas of focus in the federal agenda include tax and entitlement reform, health care, education, overtime regulation, energy and environment, international trade, immigration, legal reform and more. View the full agenda here.
For more state government news go to the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce’s The Bottom Line blog.