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Posted on 1/31/2013 by in Immigration Taxes Fiscal Cliff

By Craig Regelbrugge
ANLA Vice President for Government Relations and Research

The dust has settled after the national elections, a new Congress has been sworn in, and Inauguration Day has come and gone. Of course, President Obama won both the Electoral College and the popular vote, capturing pretty much all of the states that were considered up for grabs. In the U.S. Senate, Democrats had to defend twice as many seats as Republicans, and many of them were in the conservative Midwest and Plains. But, Republicans high hopes of gaining control of the upper chamber were dashed, as Democrats have a net gain of two seats. Republicans held the House; they lost about seven seats but maintain a comfortable margin of control.

So, same President, same basic power structure, same Congressional leaders.  Despite a record $6 billion spent on political advertising, little has changed.  Americans seem inclined by instinct toward divided government, and that’s the reality for at least the next few years.  Successful legislative proposals will have to be bipartisan to clear Congress and be signed by the President.  This is especially true in the Senate, where it takes 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. 

What is the outlook on some key issues for the Christmas Tree industry?  As Christmas itself neared, the Fiscal Cliff was the Grinch. A fiscal cliff compromise reached by the House on Jan. 1 extended Bush-era tax cuts for the majority of Americans but also left a big range of issues unaddressed. The legislation also created a new cliff deadline over spending cuts around the same time the debt ceiling will need to be raised.

Swirling around is the prospect of tax reform, which was left unaddressed in the fiscal cliff deal.  Whether in the context of corporate or individual taxes, many are calling for a reduction in rates but also an elimination or reduction in exemptions and deductions.  Such proposals need close monitoring; in the business context, many deductions, credits, and exemptions were designed to benefit small business.  So a reduction in top corporate tax rates paired with elimination of credits or exemptions could disproportionately impact farms and small businesses. 

For employers hoping for repeal of Obamacare, the realization is sinking in that the law is likely here to stay.  Health and Human Services and other federal agencies are making steady progress on rules and guidance to implement the law.  Prudent employers want to plan, but planning is tough until we know how insurance products will be priced on the open market and in the exchanges.  The prevalence of seasonal employment in our industry is a challenging variable.  Under the law, H-2A workers are even covered. Then there is the fact that many workers are foreign-born, and falsely documented.  Presumably they will count toward an employer’s determination of total employees relating to the employer mandate to provide coverage or pay a penalty.  But they will not be able to obtain insurance in the exchanges, and in fact, could create a “paper trail” back to their employer without the privacy protections that exist with respect to Social Security information, for instance. In much of agriculture, immigration reform is a necessary precursor for workable health care reform!

Immigration reform is one issue where expectations of progress are rising in the election aftermath.  Why?  This past election cycle was the first in which Latinos as a voting bloc may have made the difference in several statewide races, as well as the Presidential contest in states like Florida, Colorado, and Nevada.  Mitt Romney performed terribly among Latino voters, receiving about 27% of their vote.  Most of this poor performance has been attributed to his hard-right turn on immigration policy during the primary, something from which he never recovered.  To paraphrase Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, issues like the economy, jobs, and education are top priorities for most Latinos, but it is hard to have a conversation on those issues when someone thinks you are going to deport their grandmother. 

Most Republicans now recognize the need to evolve their messaging on immigration reform, and to put the issue in the rear view mirror.  Many feel that the Party can appeal to Latinos on other issues. Ronald Reagan once referred to Hispanics as “Republicans who just don’t know it yet.”  Thought leaders in the Republican Party are beginning to reframe immigration policy in economic terms, something we have long supported.

For Democrats, pressure is high to deliver on promises made, though some might still prefer to have the wedge issue rather than real solutions.  With some elements of the Democratic base now calling for “citizenship for 11 million,” it may not be easy for Party leaders to come to a reasonable middle ground. 

ANLA and NCTA are deeply involved in the debate, and are supporting efforts to reunify agriculture.  A viable ag solution will need to be bipartisan.  It could move as part of a broader bill, or as an early building block toward a modernized immigration policy.    

Flexibility will be the watchword.  While an immigration effort next year looks likely, the path will be difficult.  The “perfect solution” from an employer perspective will not clear Congress nor be signed into law by the President.  Negotiation will be tricky and take finesse, and difficult compromise will be inevitable. 

Whether you are a major grower, wholesaler, choose and cut farm, retailer, or supplier, NCTA needs your continued support in order to effectively represent your interests as a member of the Christmas Tree industry.  Decisions made by elected officials and bureaucrats have a direct effect on your bottom line. As they say, you are either at the table or you are on the menu.