business & economy bills 2008

Bills in Brief

Congress kicked off its year working on an economic stimulus plan, but it could get to other business-related bills left hanging from '07 later in the year.

Housing: With everyone blaming the subprime market for turning the economy sour, Congress started last year looking for ways to keep foreclosures to a minimum while taming the subprime market from future excess. It didn't get far, but this year the pressure is on to wrap up a series of bills introduced last year - from expanding federal loans to making it harder for brokers to sign off on risky loans. See our "Housing Jitters" page for more.

Food and Oil Futures: with gas and food prices on heady upswings, Congress is moving to tame commodities' future markets, which some believe are helping to nudge prices up.

Farm bill: Up for reauthorization this year, the farm bill had agricultural special interests, poverty advocates, fiscal hawks, among others, wrestling over how to rework the sprawling bill that covers farm subsidies, food stamps and agricultural conservation. A final bill passed in June.

Banks will be banks: Congress is trying to figure out whether to let commercial businesses own "Industrial Loan Companies" (kinda like banks) - 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 passed bills that would give the Consumer Protection Bureau more money and authority to test and recall toys. The differences between both versions were worked out and passed by the House in July; the Senate will probably follow in the fall. (HR 4040)

Patent reform: With one bill already passed in the House, Congress may revamp the ways patents are granted and challenged. The 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. The Senate has struggled to pass a similar bill, but may try again in the fall. (See these overviews in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal for more of what's at stake for each side of the debate.)

Credit cards: Dems were talking last year about clamp down on credit card policies that some say take advantage of credit-happy Americans. Nothing happened, but bills could resurface this year. Meanwhile the Fed - and Office of Thrift Supervision - have proposed some rules of its own (WP).

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 has been thinking about cutting small businesses some slack - almost ever since Sarbanes-Oxley went through; there's a chance they could take some action this year.

Trade: Free-traders were pushing for three deals - Panama, Columbia and South Korea - to go through this year, with Columbia at top of the list. But before taking any free-trade action, Congress said it wanted first to help out downsized workers by re-upping the Trade Adjustment Assistance bill. It bought time to do so in April, when the House voted to ditch "fast track" rules which otherwise have forced it to vote on the pact by mid June. (WP)

Meanwhile - and somewhat confusingly, Congress may vote to extend special trade status for Columbia, Peru,
Ecuador and Bolivia, letting most of their goods enter the states duty
free - as well as okay ongoing tariff breaks for developing nations. A bill axing 70 year old tariffs on shoes could also be tacked on for good measure.

With a Congress increasingly irked by China's monetary policy and lax intellectual property enforcement, it could also take retaliatory tariff action against China.

CEOs: Congress was tossing around the idea last year of giving shareholders the right to have an "advisory" vote on CEO pay packages (LAT). It didn't go anywhere, but could resurface in '08.

Telecoms: Attempts to pass a telecommunications bill with internet neutrality safeguards also fell by the wayside last year, but - who knows - could return.

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)

Updated Aug 3, 2008

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