D.C. Hotline: Congressional gridlock and the fiscal cliff
By Ben Gann, Director of legislative affairs, NLBMDA
A combination of expiring tax cuts, automatic spending cuts and a need to raise the debt ceiling at the beginning of 2013 has led the United States on the verge of a “fiscal cliff.” Congress is unlikely to address the issue until after the November elections, creating more uncertainty in an already sluggish economy.
In 2001 and 2003, Congress passed tax cuts lowering rates on individuals, capital gains, dividend and estates that are set to expire at the end of the year. Commonly referred to as the “Bush tax cuts,” they were scheduled to end at the end of 2010, but a last-minute agreement provided a two-year extension. Further complicating matters are automatic spending cuts at the start of the year unless Congress stops it from taking effect, and also the need to raise the $16.394 trillion federal debt ceiling.
Gridlock on the fiscal cliff will continue until after the November election when at least a short-term resolution is possible before the end of the year. The NLBMDA is engaged in this debate and is working with Congress and the White House to make sure the interests of lumber and building material dealers are well represented.
NRF forges on with swipe fee battle
The National Retail Federation is continuing its fight against credit card swipe fees by asking a judge to reject a proposed class-action settlement of a federal antitrust lawsuit, saying it would not bring the fees charged by Visa and MasterCard under control and does not give retailers who oppose it an adequate mechanism to opt out.
“The proposal pending before the court does nothing to keep these soaring fees from continuing to drive prices higher for American consumers, and would block merchants who believe in true swipe fee reform from ever having their day in court,” NRF SVP and general counsel Mallory Duncan said. “While the remaining parties would like to treat preliminary approval as a routine procedural step, the court should recognize that this settlement is so legally flawed it cannot be tweaked into fairness.”
According to NRF, nine mostly small merchants supporting the settlement filed a motion with U.S. District Court Judge John Gleeson in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Oct. 19 asking for preliminary approval of the proposal, and oral arguments are scheduled for Nov. 9. Preliminary approval would begin a months-long process in which all retailers who accept Visa and MasterCard credit cards would be sent notices giving them the opportunity to either accept the settlement or opt out of part of it. Arguments on the merits of the settlement and whether it should be given final approval would not begin until sometime next year.
NRF argued in a brief filed Thursday that preliminary approval should be denied, saying the settlement cannot legally be certified as a class action because it attempts to force a one-size-fits-all solution onto an wildly diverse group of merchants. NRF also argued that a provision barring all retailers — including those who opt out of the settlement and even those who do not yet exist — from filing future lawsuits over swipe fees is impermissibly broad under federal law. The provision would allow the card industry to continue its anticompetitive practices and fee increases unchallenged.
NRF said the unusual structure of the settlement gives merchants who oppose it no mechanism to truly opt out. Rather than being able to opt out entirely, retailers would only be able to reject their share of the $7.25 billion offered as compensation for past price fixing, and would remain bound by flawed injunctive relief that would entrench current card industry practices rather than take steps to limit future fee hikes.
Generators can use heating oil in N.J.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in coordination with the Department of Energy (DOE), has temporarily waived federal clean diesel fuel requirements in New Jersey to allow the use of home heating oil in most generators and pumps in emergency service.
The decision, handed down by EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, lifts restrictions of the Clean Air Act. As a result of effects of Hurricane Sandy, extreme and unusual supply circumstances exist, which may result in a temporary shortage of diesel fuel compliant with federal regulations, the EPA said in a Nov. 1 announcement. The federal waivers will help ensure an adequate supply of fuel for emergency response in New Jersey.
The waiver temporarily allows the use of heating oil in emergency generators and pumps if ultra low-sulfur fuel is not available. The waiver will not apply to a small subset of diesel engines used in generators and pumps that could be damaged by the high sulfur fuel.
More information is available by clicking here.