Unemployment is down. GDP is up. The economy has grown and business owners are overwhelmingly optimistic about 2015. Lots of economists offer many good reasons why things look so rosy. But there's one thing underlying it all: the do-nothing 113th Congress. For the past two years we've had nothing but stalemate and rancor in DC. No one likes stalemate. But business owners do. That's because for many of the preceding years we worried about the uncertainty created by a federal government actively changing laws affecting banking, investments, healthcare and the environment. But for the past two years, stalemate reduced that uncertainty. And with less uncertainty, the business community could invest with more confidence. And it did.
And now the 114th Congress convenes today. And that's good news if you're a business owner. Not because of what this session will accomplish. But what it won't accomplish. For example...
The 114th Congress is, according to one report, the most diverse Congress in history. There is a record number of female lawmakers (104). There will be 46 black lawmakers and 33 Hispanic lawmakers. A vast majority of lawmakers identify themselves as Christian, either Protestant or Catholic, along with 16 Mormons. But there will also be 28 Jewish-Americans, two Buddhists, two Muslims and one Hindu. 184 are lawyers, 13 are from agricultural backgrounds, and 27 have a healthcare background. There are also three former aviators, including Rep.-elect Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), who was the first female pilot to fly in combat. A number of Senate members have small business backgrounds. Too much of one thing is bad. Diversity is good. The more opinions, the more discussion, the less big things can happen. And business owners don't want big things. We just want certainty.
Their powers are limited. For the first time in this presidency, the opposing party controls the legislative branch, including its agenda. And for a business owner, this is good news. It means that neither party can accomplish anything without compromise. The Republicans have limited powers. They do not have enough votes in either house to override a presidential veto. Laws that do pass will only do so when both sides are mostly in agreement. This protects the business community from irrational behavior (i.e. excessive regulations, extreme spending cuts) that could result when one party controls too much and has to answer to its far left or right elements. Of course, our government needs to be able to do the things a government does: provide defense, infrastructure, help for those who need it and a system of laws for which people can live and do business peaceably. But the more power the government has, either from the left or right, the more mischief it can create and the more menacing it can become even to the business community. The good news is that the 114th Congress does not have this power. Sure, Congress can and will snip away at the Affordable Care Act, deny certain parts of the president's immigration actions, pass small amounts of legislation to reform our tax system. But that's about it. The president would never sign legislation that veers too far away from his beliefs. He's said that and agree with him or not, he is a man that does what he says he's going to do. So we won't expect any big moves from the current Congress. Good.
They are looking to 2016. Everything done over the next two years will be with an eye towards the next presidential cycle. Battles that cannot be won (i.e. repealing Obamacare, raising the debt ceiling) will be fought only to draw a line in the stand and stake each party's position for 2016. Smart business owners I know are always looking a few years ahead, mapping out their plans, deciding on where to grow, if to grow, and when to spend. The 114th Congress will give us all a glimpse into the future. The next two years will define the four coming after. But one thing's for sure: there are too many differences between Congress and the president that can overcome any sweeping legislation. And that makes it easier for us to plan ahead too.
They've learned from their mistakes. The Democrats learned that passing a giant bill with only partisan support only creates rancor and hostility from the other half who feel that they weren't fairly represented. And Republicans have learned that drawing a line in the sand and going so far as to shut down the operations of the government, risk this country's debt ratings and roil its financial markets does not exactly put them in favor with the public either. Which means we can expect no big showdowns, no bullying, no enormous interruptions that will impact our economy and our businesses over the next two years. Sure, there will be fights and rhetoric and threats. But the business owners I know are not expecting anything drastic that will stop them from growing.
In the end there's only one reason why the 114th Congress will be good for our businesses: it's because it won't be bringing hope or change. We don't want hope or change. We want stability and less uncertainty. And that's what we'll be getting.
A version of this blog appeared on Inc.com.