Use this page as a resource to stay on top of breaking news and updates relevant to BSC industry.
President Trump Backs Down on Brazil Steel and Aluminum Tariff Threat
President Trump recently told Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro in a telephone call that he would not move forward on his threat to levy Section 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Brazil. On December 2, the President announced that he was planning to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Argentina and Brazil due to currency devaluations by both countries. It remains unclear whether the Trump Administration still intends to levy tariffs on Argentina.
White House Trade Adviser Says USMCA Could Pass Senate Soon
White House Trade Adviser Peter Navarro told reporters that the Senate could pass the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) as early as January 10. The Senate Finance Committee is planning to markup the trade deal on January 7 and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) could call a vote on the floor later in the week. The House passed the USMCA overwhelmingly before heading home for the holidays in December. Leader McConnell had originally announced that the Senate would not be taking up the USMCA until after the impeachment trial of President Trump but Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has yet to send the Senate the articles of impeachment from the House.
OSHA Publishes Minor Corrections to Safety Standards
Recently, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued minor corrections for its Walking-Working Surfaces, Personal Protective Equipment and Special Industries standards to remove “typographical, formatting and clerical errors,” which was published in a final rule.
In its Personal Fall Protection Systems Standard (1910.140), OSHA will no longer require the gate strength of snaphooks and carabiners to be proof tested to 3,600 pounds in all directions. Instead, the “intended requirement” is that the gate of carabiners and snaphooks are “capable of withstanding a minimum load of 3,600 pounds without the gate separating from the nose of the snaphook or carabiner body by more than 0.125 inches.” OSHA made the correction to remain consistent with the ANSI/ASSE Z359.12-2009 standard. OSHA stated that proof testing the gates may cause damage to the equipment and make them unsafe.
The other corrections contained in the rule:
- Ladders, 1910.23(d)(4): The previous rule required that “the side rails of through or side-step ladders extend 42 inches above the top of an access level or landing platform served by the ladder.” OSHA added the words “at least” before “42 inches.”
- Stairways, 1910.25(a): OSHA clarified that articulated stairs are not covered by this standard, and added a title to Figure D-8 in 1910.25(c).
- Scaffolds and Rope Descent Systems, 1910.27(b)(1)(i): OSHA corrected the metric equivalent of 5,000 pounds to 2,268 kilograms. It previously was listed as 268 kg.
- Fall Protection Systems and Falling Object Protection – Criteria and Practices, 1910.29: OSHA corrected Figure D-11 to include labels for the “top rail” and “end post.”
- Electric Power Generation, Transmission, and Distribution, 1910.269(h)(2): OSHA changed the incorrect references to ladder standards to 1910.23(c)(4) and (c)(9).
The corrections took effect Dec. 17, 2019.
Congress Passes FY 2020 Government Funding Legislation and Tax Extenders
On December 20, President Trump signed two bills passed by Congress which fully fund the government through fiscal year 2020. The first bill appropriates money for national security programs while the second bill funds domestic and international assistance programs. You can find details of both bills here.
This legislation also extends a number of key small business tax incentives, known as “tax extenders”, through the end of calendar year 2020. These include tax incentives for employers operating in Empowerment Zones. They apply retroactively to 2018 and 2019.
In addition, the funding package permanently repeals the health insurance tax (HIT) which is a fee imposed annually on fully insured health care plans that are offered by many small and medium-sized businesses. The bill also repeals the so-called “Cadillac Tax” which is a 40% excise levied on high-cost health plans.
House of Representatives Passes USMCA
On December 19, the House of Representatives formally approved the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) to update and replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The agreement must now be passed by the Senate to be ratified into law.
U.S.- China Trade Deal Could Come After Presidential Election
President Trump told reporters at the NATO summit in London last week that the United States has no deadline to complete a trade deal with China and that an agreement might not happen until after the 2020 election in November. The President said that the deal has to be right for the U.S. before the Administration moves forward.
Trade officials familiar with the talks said that the two countries have made progress, but are still negotiating over whether existing U.S. tariffs will be removed and over specific levels of Chinese purchases of U.S. agricultural products as part of a “phase one” trade deal. China is reportedly demanding that the U.S. rescind the 15% tariffs on “List 4” imports which went into effect on September 1 of this year.
President Trump to Reinstate Steel and Aluminum Tariffs on Argentina and Brazil
On December 2, President Trump that his Administration will reinstate Section 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Argentina and Brazil. These two countries had been previously excluded from Section 232 tariffs after agreeing to import quotas in 2018. The President cited currency devaluation by both countries as the reason for his decision. He did not say when the tariffs would go into effect.
Top House Ways and Means Republican Says Year End-Tax Bill Possible
The House Ways and Means Committee Ranking Member Kevin Brady (R-TX) told reporters last month that there is a decent chance Congress can pass a year-end tax bill if Democrats are willing to keep the package “relatively tight.”
Brady said that a tax bill which renewed some extenders and included a few corrections to the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) could possibility pass both chambers by the end of the year. With the federal government due to run out of funding by December 20, there have been discussions in Congress about including tax legislation in a potential year-end spending agreement.
Congressional Appropriators Optimistic About Spending Negotiations
House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-NY) told reporters she is optimistic that Congress will be able to pass a long-term spending agreement to fund the government by next week’s deadline. Last month, Congress passed a Continuing Resolution (CR) which kept the government funded at current levels through December 20 as both chambers struggled to come to an agreement on a spending deal for the remainder of fiscal year 2020.
According to Democratic leaders, Republicans’ demands for increased border wall funding continue to be a “major impediment” in the negotiations. Both the House and Senate have yet to pass all twelve appropriations bills required to annually fund the government. If there is no comprehensive agreement by the December 20 deadline, Congress is expected to pass another short-term CR in order to avoid a government shutdown.
Congress reaches deal on USMCA
This week, Democrats and the Trump Administration announced that they have reached an agreement to move forward with congressional consideration of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), a trade deal which is intended to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which was originally signed in November of 2018. This year, the two sides were working to resolve Democratic concerns about enforcement tools for labor and environmental standards and politics in Washington complicated Congress’s consideration of the agreement for most of this year. As we have mentioned previously, both chambers have to vote to approve the USMCA before it replaces NAFTA. In addition, Canada and Mexico must also have their respective legislatures approve the agreement. House Democrats, President Donald Trump, top Senate Republicans and labor leaders all cited progress toward a deal.
For next steps, the White House has to submit ratifying legislation to Congress for the House to move forward with approving the agreement. Once the White House submits that text, which it could do this week, a 90-day window to approve USMCA starts. Notably, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) stated publically that the Senate would not take up the USMCA until after a possible impeachment trial for President Trump, so this issue will spill into early 2020.
Congress Pessimistic on Passing Tax Extenders by End of 2019
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) told reporters he is pessimistic that Congress will be able to pass tax extenders legislation by the end of the year and blamed congressional Democrats for a lack of urgency on the issue. Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-OR) says that he and Chairman Grassley, along with Democrats and Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee, continue to negotiate a comprehensive tax package but there remains major disagreements between the two sides.
House Democrats favor extending all of the tax incentives that expired in 2017 while also expanding both the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit (CDCTC) and rolling back the increased estate tax exemption by three years from 2025 to 2022. Republicans say the Democrats’ demands are too costly and any efforts to roll back the estate tax exemption are a nonstarter.
Meanwhile, congressional Republicans are hoping to include a series of technical corrections to the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) in any potential end of the year tax package. This includes fixing the drafting error in the TCJA which made qualified improvement property (QIP) ineligible for bonus depreciation. However, Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Committee say Republicans will have to give up something in return for any fixes to the TCJA.
House to Vote on Short-Term Legislation to Fund Government
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) announced that the House would be voting on a short-term Continuing Resolution (CR) during the week of Nov. 18 to ensure the government is funded by the Nov. 21 deadline. The White House has indicated that President Trump would sign a CR as long as it doesn’t include restrictions to impede the Administration’s priorities, such as the border wall.
Leader Hoyer did not say how long the CR would last but reports indicate that the White House and Congress are working on a deal that extends funding through mid to late December. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have stated that their goal is to pass all twelve FY 2020 appropriations bills by the end of this year.