Congressman Mike Lawler Discusses ‘Hot Topics’
The Union Building Trades Now Wrestling With Housing, Immigration, Healthcare, PLAs Lead List
By GEORGE DRAPEAU III – December 18, 2023
ELMSFORD, NY—Congressman Mike Lawler (R-17CD) met with more than 60 members of the union Building Trades on Nov. 28 at the Teamsters Local 456 Union Hall here for a frank discussion and “listening session” of the pressing industry challenges organized labor now confronts.
Gathered were representatives of the three regional Building & Construction Trades Councils and the Construction Industry Council of Westchester & Hudson Valley, Inc. for the morning meeting. Rep. Lawler annunciated both the problems and possible pathways to solutions to many of the hot topics of the day.
“Housing affordability remains a persistent challenge,” he said. “With mortgage rates at multi-decade highs, limited supply and continued supply chain and construction issues, for many it is the most difficult time to purchase a home in a generation. The market is further complicated by the extraordinary circumstance of many homeowners unable to sell their home for fear of losing their low-fixed rate mortgage obtained prior to the rapid increase in interest rates. These, among other factors, have forced many potential homebuyers into the rental market—driving up rental demand and prices with it.”
He told the group, “The nation is six million units underbuilt, and not much supply is coming online.” The major challenge, he noted, is “how we incentivize housing on a federal level.”
“My top priority is to get a fix on SALT. How to pay for it is the challenge,” he said. He discussed raising the cap from $10,000 on real estate and the “Marriage Penalty” of $20,000.”
“Ending the SALT marriage tax penalty and lifting the cap will result in families getting to keep more of their hard-earned money.” He said, “This has been a bipartisan failure—a Republican Congress and White House enacted the tax reform law that imposed a $10,000 cap on SALT deduction in 2017, but a Democrat Congress and White House failed to fix it.”
He said the first bill he introduced “took aim at a particular under-discussed flaw of this terrible policy, as the SALT Marriage Penalty Elimination Act would double the SALT deduction for married filers— letting married couples filing individual returns deduct the full $10,000, each, and joint filers deduct $20,000 in order to address a marriage penalty.”
He also cosponsored H.R. 2555, the SALT Deductibility Act, which seeks to repeal the temporary restrictions in taxable years 2018 through 2025 on the deductibility of state and local taxes.
Mr. Lawler held a roundtable discussion on housing last month at Rockland Community College with stakeholders who included elected officials, government agencies, non-profit organizations and key figures from the real estate industry such as developers and realtors. He said he will be hosting another one in Westchester to further examine the problems. Among his goals are to develop ways to improve transparency, reform flawed regulations and processes, increase access and affordability, expedite approval processes, expand workforce and volunteer housing, improve safety and oversight of public housing, and incentivize construction.
The federal tax code is coming up for renegotiation in 2025, when it will be wide open for debate, he noted. He hopes to take a leading role in this legislation if he is re-elected in 2024.
On a regional and community level, he actively campaigned against Gov. Kathy Hochul’s “Housing Compact” as part of the FY2023-2024 New York State budget. He said, “Local control is a bedrock in New York state…Our supervisors and town boards, our mayors, our village trustees, along with the planning boards and the zoning boards, they make decisions on development and what is in the best interests of their communities with input from the residents.”
He criticized Gov. Hochul’s plan, citing that it would basically “upend the constitutional rights of our local municipalities and force a one-size-fits-all approach to housing. It’s unsustainable. It’s wrong and it violates the rights of these municipalities.”
Turning to the topic of Immigration, he called for action by the White House to address the crisis the country and New York now faces. Immigration is a “hot-button topic” for organized labor, especially now, given the loss of work the building trades experience to undocumented workers.
Mr. Lawler said reforms are needed in the legal immigration processes, the asylum process and how the U.S. government deals with illegal immigrants. He pointed to the insecurity and porousness of the U.S.-Mexico border. It’s critical that the Congress “works on realistic, effective solutions to these problems,” he said, and that he is “committed to working in a bipartisan manner to facilitate them.” He pointed to passing H.R.2, the Secure the Border Act, and he introduced the bipartisan DIGNITY Act with Reps. Salazar and Escobar.
However, he stopped short in providing his position on the ways to arrest the arbitrary admission of immigrants. Discussions became lively as he weighed in on his support to return to the merit-based programs of the early 2000s—when foreigners were issued “green cards” as a way to attract doctors, home-health aids, scientists and qualified tradesmen to this country.
What Mr. Lawler said at the meeting: “The key is more regulations regarding immigration. There needs to be a process to deal with the border.” He admitted, however, that the dynamics have changed somewhat now that Mayor Adams and Gov. Hochul are becoming engaged in the matter.
Congressman Lawler said he has been active on healthcare in this Congress. His actions have been focused on improving quality of care and providing additional resources to the healthcare industry include signing onto a letter opposing impending cuts to the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule and Medicaid DSH cuts. He also signed onto legislation to raise the number of Medicare-funded residency positions, and advocated for robust community health center funding in the FY24 appropriations bill.
Rep. Lawler has also introduced multiple pieces of legislation, such as H.R.4339, the Preserving Local Medicaid Access Act of 2023, which would ensure NY counties receive their allotment of federal Medicaid dollars, and H.R.5984, the Streamline Emergency Care Act, which would create a grant program to expand and modernize emergency room operations and cut down on ER wait times.
He introduced legislation, H.R. 4875, Doctors in our Borders Act, with Rep. Adrianno Espaillat from NY that would allow more U.S.-trained foreign doctors to stay in the U.S. and work in low-income communities.
Congressman Lawler said he was introducing legislation to make veterans’ access to healthcare more affordable. The Heroes Earned Affordable Lifts Act, or the HEAL Act, a piece of legislation that makes several reforms to help lower costs for veterans traveling to their healthcare appointments.
He said, “The HEAL Act is a major step forward in improving access to healthcare for veterans in the Hudson Valley and across the country. Raising mileage reimbursement rates, getting rid of the deductible, and allowing VSOs and VSAs to qualify for reimbursement will help provide additional and affordable services to our heroes.”
The HEAL Act also removes the deductible for beneficiary travel, which serves as a barrier to care.
FEDERAL WORK RULES: Related to this would be action and support he has expressed regarding Davis-Bacon work rules and efforts to bolster wage-rate enforcement.
PROJECT LABOR AGREEMENTS: PLAs were discussed in great detail, particularly in the area of West Point Military Academy capital construction. The presidential executive order to include PLAs on contracts starting at $30 million was discussed by members of union labor. A more formal response to this matter was requested, including the request for contact information (phone/email) for the office to follow up on this issue.
IIJA FUNDING PROJECTIONS FOR NEW YORK STATE: Recent Congressional efforts to reduce funding levels currently in IIJA would have cost New York State billions of dollars over the life of the law. That could mean the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars for capital projects needed in the Mid-Hudson counties of Region 8 alone and the loss of thousands of jobs. He was asked to stand in support of current funding levels and to pledge his support to protect this vital funding in the face of the new leadership in the Congress that sought to reduce IIJA. The New York State 17th Congressional District, to the suburban north of New York City, includes all or parts of Rockland, Putnam, Dutchess, and Westchester counties.
Actions Taken by Rep. Lawler in Congress
Cosponsored H.R. 818 Expanding Labor Representation in the Workforce System Act, which would expand labor representation on State and local workforce development boards.
Cosponsored H.R. 2851 National Apprenticeship Act of 2023 which would create nearly one million new Registered Apprenticeship youth apprenticeship, and pre-apprenticeship opportunities over the next five years by investing more than $3.8 billion over five years.
Cosponsored H.R. 2900 Apprenticeship Hubs Across America Act, which would promote registered apprenticeships, including registered apprenticeships with in-demand industry sectors, through the support of workforce intermediaries.
Cosponsored H.R. 4963, the Tax Fairness for Workers Act, which allows workers an above-the-line deduction for union dues and expenses.
Cosponsored H.R. 4967, the Tools Tax Deduction Act, which would establish an above-the-line tax deduction for workers for construction tools and personal protective clothing and gear.
Signed on to an FY 2024 Appropriations letter with Moulton and Bacon urging strong support of Amtrak and passenger rail services with authorization levels set by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.