The COVID-19 pandemic has created new dynamics in Congress regarding the passage of important legislation and, with the election fast approaching, the window for action will continue to close. Despite the challenges, NLBMDA has been working on several important industry priorities, including needed reforms to the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit and small business relief options. Simultaneously, NLBMDA has been monitoring the price of lumber, which is currently at a record high.
Negotiations between Congressional leadership and the Trump Administration for the next COVID-19 relief package broke down as members of Congress returned home for the August recess. In May, the House passed their “Phase 4” bill called the HEROES Act. The Senate did not take up that bill and is unlikely to do so. Despite the gridlock in the Senate, the Republicans released a series of bills totaling approximately $1 trillion that serve as the Republicans’ version of the COVID-19 relief bill, the HEALS Act.
NLBMDA has been pursuing several industry priorities as part of COVID-19 relief legislation, ranging from small business relief to housing reforms. While NLBMDA was successful in getting relief options passed, like the Paycheck Protection Program, housing priorities continue to face challenges in Congress. Before negotiations came to a standstill, House Speaker Pelosi suggested that Democrats and Republicans consider approximately $2 trillion in overall funding, essentially splitting the difference from where both parties started; however, Administration negotiators rejected the proposal.
It is not currently clear how negotiations will play out before the end of September. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) indicated that he was pessimistic that a package could be agreed to considering the upcoming election. During the early part of September, McConnell discussed with Senate Republican colleagues the possibility of putting a slimmed down COVID-19 relief package estimated to cost between $500 billion and $700 billion on the Senate floor, which will likely focus on employer liability protections and a scaled back unemployment benefit.
While Congress stays gridlocked on additional COVID relief bills, dealers across the U.S. have expressed concern over the current price of lumber, which as of early September is at a record high. COVID-related factors have had effects, but that is compacted with the trading climate with Canada.
For years, NLBMDA has been lobbying the federal government for a renewed Softwood Lumber Agreement with Canada, which would address the current tariff on Canadian softwood lumber. NLBMDA is watching for a final determination regarding a previous preliminary decision by the U.S. Department of Commerce to lower duties on shipments of Canadian lumber into the United States.
Currently, duties are averaging more than 20% on Canadian lumber shipments into the United States. Commerce conducted an administrative review and in early 2020, issued a proposal that could lower the countervailing and antidumping duties to just over 8%. A final determination was expected by this time, but has not been issued. NLBMDA has lobbied the Trump Administration to address the issue while being considerate of the benefit of free market principles. Specifically, NLBMDA would like the Trump Administration to return to the negotiating table with Canada and create a workable and fair system for all parties.
Kevin McKenney is director of government affairs for NLBMDA in Washington, D.C. For more information, visit dealer.org.