business bills 2007

Bills in Brief

The new Democratic Congress continues to work on business issues that dogged last year's Congress - at the same time as giving a Democratic twist to new and old issues.

Housing: With the subprime market still rattling the credit industry, Congress is looking for ways to keep foreclosures to a minimum while taming the subprime market. While the preference is to limit risky lending practices for the future while helping homeowners refinance their loans today (NYT), wholesale bail-outs are not an impossibility down the road. The Federal Reserve went ahead and set stricter regulations for subprime mortgages, but those rules wouldn't apply to state regulated banks, so Congress'll probably try to set tighter rules for all mortgage lenders (as well as secondary backers of mortgages, HR 3915). At the same, Congress could free up the Federal Housing Administration to make bigger, riskier loans (HR 1852), and pass a bill giving states up to $1b a year for low income housing, HR 2895. To keep from adding salt in the wound, Congress may save homeowners from having to pay taxes on any forgiven mortgage debt (Bloomberg). Last year, Congress was trying to figure out how to rein in the fiscally unstable Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, HR 1427, but this year those quasi-governmental agencies may be drawn in to help out more struggling homeowners.

Farm bill: Up for reauthorization this year and passed already in the House, the farm bill has agricultural special interests, poverty advocates, fiscal hawks, among others, wrestling over how to rework this sprawling bill. So far, the agricultural interests and poverty advocates are winning.

Banks will be banks: Congress is trying to figure out whether to let commercial businesses own "Industrial Loan Companies" - which some warn would create a risky conflict of interest. (HR 698)

Consumer protection: After a little too much lead paint from China, both the House and Senate are considering bills that would give the Consumer Protection Bureau more money and authority to track toys (WP).

Patent reform: Already passed in the House, HR 1908, Congress may revamp the ways patents are granted and challenged. A House passed bill, HR 1908, would make it harder for companies to protect/reap windfalls from their patents, primarily by letting judges set royalties not for the full value of the product that uses a patent - but just for the proportion of the product that the patent is used. (See this NYTs overview of what's at stake for each side.)

Credit cards: Dems are more eager than their GOP brethren to clamp down on credit card policies that some say take advantage of credit-happy Americans.

Sarbanes-Oxley: Put in place to prevent more Enron house-of-cards collapses, Sarbanes-Oxley rules are seen by some as an excessive burden on small businesses. Congress may vote to cut them some slack.

Trade: Dems passed a free trade agreement with Peru, but three others that were in the works - Panama, Columbia and South Korea - fell by the wayside this year (AP).
Meanwhile, Congress let the president's "fast track trade" authority run out on June 30; it's unclear if/when they'd hand it back to him. Congress still has to wrestle with whether it wants to take any retaliatory tariff action against China, in response to complaints about Chinese monetary policy and laxness on intellectual property enforcement.

CEOs: Congress may give shareholders the right to have an "advisory" vote on CEO pay packages (LAT).

Telecoms: Congress will make a second attempt to pass a telecommunications bill with internet neutrality safeguards plugged in.

Terrorism risk insurance: At the tail end of the year Congress managed to extend federal coverage of terrorism risk, HR 2761.

Competitiveness: The House and Senate have passed a bundle of measures that would promote science and tech research and education - including HR 363, HR 363 HR 1867 & HR 1868 and S 761 - that were ultimately bundled and passes as 2272.

Eminent Domain: A House bill, HR 926, would cut off development assistance to states that use eminent domain to turn over property to private developers.

Taxing investment funds: Congress may vote to raise the tax on the income managers make on hedge funds, private equity and venture capital. (WP)

Disaster, flood and wind insurance: Congress is trying to revamp federal flood insurance so it spends less money covering vacation homes but also includes wind coverage, HR 3121. At the same time, lawmakers may allow states to pool disaster insurance across state lines, HR 3355 (NYT).

updated December 31, 2007

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u said extended twice in the

u said extended twice in the terrorisim risk insurance section. just to let u know. your informations helped me out alot for my group project in Civics and Economics. We're doing econ right now. but anyways thanks.

a random Joe (not verified) | January 2, 2008 - 10:03am
talker's picture

thanks random!

Glad Joe helped you out - in spite of the typos.

talker | January 2, 2008 - 10:43am