With the Election Over, Congress Returns to DC with a Heavy Workload

In the recent election, President Obama won a second term, Democrats retained control of the Senate, and Republicans retained control of the House. While the majority party in the House and Senate will remain the same when the 113th Congress convenes next year, Democrats picked up seats in both houses. The 112th Congress returns to Washington this week to work on a number of issues, including legislation that is critical to the volunteer fire service.
One of the top legislative priorities for the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) is reauthorization of the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant programs. Reauthorization legislation with bi-partisan support has been pending for more than a year in both the House and Senate. The Senate is expected to take up S. 550, the Fire Grants Reauthorization Act, at some point later this year. If and when this occurs, the NVFC will issue an Action Alert through our Capwiz service to enlist our supporters to contact their Senators to ask them to vote for passage of this critical legislation. Click here to ask your U.S. Representative and Senators to support reauthorization of AFG and SAFER or sign up to receive Action Alerts from NVFC.
Another major challenge that Congress needs to address is what to do about a series of marginal tax rate reductions enacted in 2001 and 2003 and extended in 2010 that are set to expire on January 1. Much of the post-election talk in Washington has focused on which of the tax rate reductions should be extended and what the terms of a deal to either raise or maintain current rates would be. The NVFC is working with our allies on Capitol Hill to ensure that legislation dealing with how volunteer firefighter and emergency medical services (EMS) and rescue personnel benefits are taxed is included in any year-end tax bill that Congress passes. Specifically, passage of the Volunteer Responder Incentive Protection Reauthorization Act, which reinstates an exclusion on federal taxation of recruitment and retention incentives, and the Volunteer Emergency Services Recruitment and Retention Act, which clarifies how length of service award programs (LOSAPs) are taxed, are top priorities for the NVFC.
January 1 is also the date that massive automatic cuts to discretionary spending are slated to take effect unless a different deficit reduction plan is enacted. These funding reductions would be applied across all federal programs and agencies, although entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid would not be touched. The U.S. Fire Administration, however, would likely see its funding reduced by $4-5 million, a cut of about 13 percent. Cuts of a similar magnitude to the AFG and SAFER grant programs could potentially be in store.
Medicare reimbursement rates for ambulance transport are also set to decline on January 1 unless Congress takes action. The NVFC supports the Medicare Ambulance Access Preservation Act, which would prevent rate reductions and ensure that reimbursement payments cover the cost of providing service. The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission recently recommended that Congress allow the rate decline to take effect while implementing a new adjustment designed to help pay for transports originating in geographically isolated low-volume areas.
Other pending legislation that the NVFC is working to build support for in hopes of passing before the end of the year include USFA reauthorization and the PSOB Improvements Act. Click here to see the latest status of all of the NVFC’s legislative priorities.