FRA Issue Update - 12/18/20

FRA Biden-Harris Transition Document

This week, the FRA Public Policy and Advocacy Committee approved the FRA Biden-Harris Transition document. The transition document will provide a brief overview of FRA’s primary policy initiatives for the 117th Congress to the Biden Administration, including our position on H-2B non-immigrant labor, transportation, and carbon neutrality of forest-based biomass. The FRA transition document will be delivered to the Biden-Harris Transition team early next week.

FRA Supported Initiatives Pointing in the Right Directions

FRA continues to monitor budget and coronavirus relief negotiations. Our supported policy initiatives are pointing towards the finish line, and we are working to move them in the right direction. These initiatives are the discretionary language that would provide the Department of Homeland Security the authority to approve supplemental H-2B guest worker visas and language that recognizes the carbon neutrality of forest-based biomass for energy production. Both of these provisions are still included in the final spending bill negotiations. However, we want to remind our members that these discussions are on-going, and things could change. The bipartisan Senate bill also includes targeted relief of $200,000,000 for logging and truck hauling businesses that have been negatively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. If this language were to make it through the final negotiations, it would be precedent-setting. FRA has been actively working to promote all of these issues this week with our allies and communicating to Congressional Members urging them to reach out to their party leadership to have them included in the final agreements.

Another important item in the mix is language correcting an Internal Revenue Service ruling in November that categorized forgivable Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans as taxable income. Recall that the CARES Act enacted in March in response to the coronavirus pandemic included a provision stating that any portion of a PPP loan that qualified for loan forgiveness “shall be excluded from gross income” for tax purposes. This tax-free treatment of any forgiven loan amount was a key aspect of the statute and featured prominently in the debate leading up to and following the legislation’s enactment.  

As part of the year-end budget/pandemic relief negotiations, there is language mirroring Senator John Cornyn’s (R-TX) ) S. 3612, the Small Business Expense Protection Act that would allow for full deductibility of business expenses on forgiven PPP loans for both “first” and “second draw” loans. A larger business coalition is working this issue, and over 700 organizations have signed a letter to Congressional leaders urging for the inclusion of this language in any final year-end appropriations deal. 

Biden Administration Cabinet Developments

A number of key Cabinet personnel decisions were rolled out by the Biden team in the last couple of weeks. In somewhat of a surprise move, the President-elect’s Agriculture Department (USDA) nominee is Tom Vilsack, former governor of Iowa and longtime USDA Secretary under President Obama. Governor Vilsack should receive a speedy confirmation through the Senate. The development is a positive one for FRA policy priorities, as Mr. Vilsack is a strong supporter of building wood markets and strongly promoted mass timber and the benefits of tall wood buildings during his tenure at USDA from 2009 to 2017. In addition, Robert Bonnie—who is heading up the transition team over at USDA for President-elect Biden—is keenly familiar with forestry and the wood products sector and was a leader on our issues during his time at USDA under President Obama as Undersecretary of Natural Resources and Environment. He is expected to be appointed to a senior role at USDA. 

The five-year Farm Bill is up for reauthorization in 2023, but House and Senate Agriculture Committee staff will begin that process later in 2021. The Farm Bill has a number of provisions promoting forestry, wood products, and wood energy, and the new USDA team will play an integral role in the upcoming reauthorization effort.  

On the trade front, President-Elect Biden’s nominee to be the U.S. Trade Representative is Katherine Tai, currently Chief Counsel for the House Ways & Means Committee. Tai is well-respected on Capitol Hill for her work in helping shepherd the United States-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) Agreement through Congress and was recommended for the job by a number of Members of Congress in both parties who were impressed by her leadership and expertise during the passage of the trade agreement. She enjoys support from the business community, as well as labor unions. In addition to her time on Capitol Hill, Tai spent several years at the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR), where she was in charge of China enforcement. Ms. Tai speaks fluent Mandarin and is intimately familiar with the delicate relationship that exists between the U.S. and China as it relates to trade.  

Eye on Georgia

As the Georgia run-off nears, recent polling shows Republican Candidates holding a small margin over Democratic Candidates. BIPAC reports “Sens. David Perdue (R) and Kelly Loeffler (R) hold an identical 49-48% edge over Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, respectively. This is more evidence that the Georgia runoffs are becoming a turnout battle. The party best convincing their voters to participate will likely win both campaigns.”