The final days of the 117th Congress

Jan 1, 2023

Community newspapers approached year’s end with more than usual interest in the perennial Congressional chess match on federal spending. As republicans and democrats jousted over funding the federal government for another year, newspapers awaited action on a basketful of pending initiatives. Any or all could be included in a final omnibus appropriation bill in the final days of the 117th Congress, but disagreements within the GOP conference about the funding bills continued to slow down decisions about the funding process.

Here are some bills of interest to newspapers:

Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, which would allow community newspapers to receive payments from Google and Facebook for the use of news taken from newspaper websites and applications. JCPA was poised for including in the National Defense Authorization Act but was blocked by a coalition from both the right and the left of the political parties. Objections included beliefs that the bill would unfairly enrich hedge fund-owned newspapers and that it would detract from online publications. Heavy lobbying by the social media platforms, who also provide grants to some of the news organizations objecting to the bill, was a factor in the debate.

Postal reviews, which would require the Postal Regulatory Commission to rethink its authorization for USPS to increase postage bills by 10-15% a year for local newspapers, did not make the cut. Bipartisan interest in getting another look at the rules was dampened toward the end of the month when powerful postal labor unions came out in opposition.

Employee Retention Tax Credits that were taken away in President Biden’s infrastructure bill also attracted a wide range of small businesses to support restoring some credits. The credits, originally authorized as part of pandemic stimulus bills in 2020 and 2021, were intended to repay businesses that suffered losses from shutdowns, but after Congress promised the payments, it rescinded compensation for the final quarter of 2021. Businesses that had relied on the promise have been seeking restoration of that quarter’s payments. But the cost of repayment would remove some of the funding for Biden’s infrastructure bill.

Federal advertising support would push the Department of Health and Human Services to include more community newspapers in federal advertising programs. Initiated by NNA in 2022, this advertising program began when publishers noticed that Biden’s promotion of coronavirus vaccines was bypassing local newspaper markets where vaccine skepticism was high. The legislative initiative would include direction from Congress to HHS to create a pilot program for using local newspaper advertising.

The Local Journalism Sustainability Act would provide refundable tax credits for local newspapers to be used in a variety of ways. Only one section, which would support payroll for journalists, has drawn broad support from journalism groups. Attempts to include payroll tax credits have lined up in hopes of inclusion in the final spending bill. But Republicans generally oppose refundable tax credits. Gaining bipartisan support in the Senate, particularly after the COVID era has been declared at an end by the White House, has been difficult.

If an omnibus spending bill is not passed by the 117th Congress, some of the initiatives are likely to be renewed in the next Congress. Democrats will control the Senate; Republicans, the House.

NNA Chair John Galer, publisher of The Journal-News in Hillsboro, Illinois, said 2022 had been an active season for NNA’s Congressional Action Team.

“I don’t know when we have had quite so many front-burner issues still hanging at the end of a Congress,” Galer said. “With the parties so divided, getting the bipartisan support we need for many of our bills has grown pretty tough. But there remains deep concern on Capitol Hill for the future of newspapers — and particularly local journalism. Congress may act on some of them before it adjourns sine die. Next year we will roll up our sleeves and start again.”

Galer said NNA’s annual Congressional Action Team Summit in 2023 had been shifted from the usual March dates to Sept 28, 2023. The event will be headquartered at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C.

“With Congress taking so long these days to get up and running, our directors decided March was too early for our fly-in. We are going to shift to September and then roll right into our joint convention with the NNA Foundation,” Galer said.