Washington Watch - March 4, 2009

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Washington Watch - March 4, 2009

Quick Look: Health Leadership Nominees Revealed

President Barack Obama tapped Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius as his pick to head the Department of Health and Human Services. Joining her to tackle health care reform is Nancy-Ann DeParle, formerly commissioner of the Department of Human Services in Tennessee. DeParle is currently the managing director of a private equity firm, but will be named the director of the White House Office of Health Reform.

Budget Proposal A Marked Shift From Bush Domestic Policy

Congressional Democrats recently released their spending plan for fiscal year 2009, and the details of the legislation (H.R. 1105) represent a clear break from the domestic priorities of former President George W. Bush.

The bill provides $625.6 billion to the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education departments, as well as a few independent agencies, with three big domestic policy agencies each receiving significant increases in their budgets. The Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services (HHS) would each receive about a 4 percent increase, while the Department of Education would see a 7 percent increase, in total an almost $25.4 billion increase over the budget for fiscal year 2008 (PL 110-61).

In the Department of Labor, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Mine Safety and Health Administration, agencies which are charged with protecting worker safety, both would receive budget increases of 5.6 percent and 4.6 percent respectively.

At HHS, Democrats want to boost funding to train health workers, including nurses and primary care physicians to $393 million, a 12 percent increase. Former President Bush had proposed cutting spending on the training program by two-thirds, to $110 million.

Education proposals include a 4 percent increase in federal spending to $14.5 billion for schools that have many low-income students, a 4.7 percent increase to $12.3 billion for special education programs and increasing the maximum Pell Grant for low-income college students by $619, to $4,860.


Legislators Concerned About Damage To Retirement Plans
The House Committee on Small Business recently held a hearing entitled “Drop in Retirement Savings: The Challenges Small Businesses Face Funding and Maintaining Retirement Plans in a Struggling Economy.” Committee Chairwoman Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) stressed how the economic downturn has negatively impacted the retirement savings of small businesses, and stated that “employers that tried to do the right thing and offer a secure retirement to their workers are being hit the hardest.”

Ranking Member Sam Graves (R-Mo.) commented that “we must work towards educating American workers on the necessity of retirement saving and helping, not by mandating, small businesses to provide employees with retirement benefit plans.”

Witnesses suggested that Congress enact three proposals for small businesses to choose between, as a “one size fits all” approach to funding relief will not work. These options include a “look back” in which companies could make contributions to their pension funds based on 105% and 110% of their 2008 required contribution for 2009 and 2010 respectively, temporarily widening the funding corridor from 10 percent to 30 percent to allow companies to “smooth” market losses over a period of time, as well as allowing employers to pay interest only on their plans’ 2008 losses for two years, and beginning the seven-year amortization afterwards.

Other recommendations to the Committee included eliminating administrative complexities and burdens on retirement plans, enhancing the current tax credit to offset the startup and employee education costs of implementing a new retirement plan, and increasing financial literacy.


Two New Regulations Added To Review And Reform List
Two new regulations have been added to the Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy’s Top 10 Rules for Review and Reform. The two new small business rules address federal government procurement requirements for small business and duplicative background checks for commercial truck drivers. The new 2009 rules replace two of the 2008 Top 10 rules that agencies reviewed and reformed during the past year, relating to the federal definition of “solid waste” and the finalization of the Special Flight Rules Area regulation for Washington, D.C.

The Office of Advocacy, the “small business watchdog” of the federal government, examines the role and status of small business in the economy and independently represents the views of small business to federal agencies, Congress, and the President. Advocacy implemented the r3 initiative in order to curb the burden of federal regulations on small business. The smallest of businesses bear the brunt of regulatory costs. The Office’s research shows that they annually pay 45 percent more per employee to comply with federal regulations than big businesses do.

Find out more about the r3 initiative and agency progress in reviewing the Top 10 rules by visiting www.sba.gov.


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