Now that Democrats have won two additional Senate seats from the runoff elections in Georgia, granting them control of US Congress and the White House for the first time since 2011, the question is: what’s in store for the venture capital community?
With the victories in Georgia, the Senate will be split 50/50, Democrats and Republicans, and the two parties may divide committee chair positions. But incoming vice-president Kamala Harris has the power to cast the tie-breaking vote in the Senate. And with the Democratic party in control, that means they will essentially have the power to control what comes to a vote.
Here are some things to watch for once the new government takes power later this month:
Track the personnel
Watch who takes leadership roles on the various legislative committees in Congress that impact venture. For instance, with the Democrats taking the Senate, Senator Ron Wyden would become chair of the finance committee, while Bernie Sanders would likely become chair of the budget committee.
Finance is where bills pertaining to investing tend to originate (along with the financial services committee in the House of Representatives). Wyden has proposed increasing capital gains taxes to the same rate as wage income, and requiring taxes be paid annually on gains from tradable assets like stocks, according to his proposal.
Just as important: watch who takes key positions in the administration. Jeff Farrah, general counsel at the National Venture Capital Association, advises to keep an eye on a host of the deputy secretary and assistant secretary positions that have yet to be filled and which play an important role for the venture community.
Take for example the assistant secretary of the Treasury for Investment Security, a position that was created under the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act of 2018. In that role, the assistant secretary oversees the Treasury’s foreign investment review process through the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.
Another role of note to watch, according to Farrah, is the position of deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. President-elect Biden has tapped Alejandro Mayorkas to fill the seat, a decision that has garnered praise among immigrant advocates.
It took a federal court order to implement the International Entrepreneur Rule in 2019 to allow foreign-born entrepreneurs to launch high-growth start-ups in the US. The rule, established under the Obama Administration, allows for immigrant entrepreneurs to remain in the US for two and a half years, with a possible extension of another two and a half years. The rule came under fire in the outgoing administration, and it took a lawsuit, with the NVCA as lead plaintiff, to implement the program.
Still, despite the contributions of foreign-born entrepreneurs in the US, the country lacks a start-up visa that facilitates new company formation by immigrants. The NVCA is urging the incoming administration to consider other immigration proposals that will allow more immigrants to help launch start-ups in the US, such as STEM visas.
Taxes and carried interest
Under perennial threat with every governmental change, both Republicans and Democrats have at times expressed interest in “closing the carried interest loophole.” In other words, changing the tax treatment of carry to be charged at the higher rate of ordinary income, which can go as high as 37 percent, compared to the capital gains rate of 20 percent.
Democratic majorities have not been able to change the way carry is taxed, but progressives under the Biden administration may give it another shot. Carry was one of the main issues targeted by a proposal from Senator Elizabeth Warren.
Tax policy can also provide a powerful mechanism to encourage growth in venture-backed start-up activity, and that might appeal to a bipartisan Congress. Look for proposals that allow start-ups to access the value of R&D credits and other tax assets, which could have an impact on their fundraising. For reference, think of the IGNITE American Innovation Act, the American Innovation and Jobs Act and the Energy Sector Innovation Credit Act.
Securities and Exchange Commission
The SEC under chairman Jay Clayton has put more of a focus on making the capital markets accessible to businesses, shifting away from a singular focus on enforcement. Under the Biden administration, the likelihood is the SEC will lean more into tackling financial crime and rules violations. This could mean a more intense program of auditing firms and punishing violators.
Environmental, social and governance
Joe Biden promised to spend $2 trillion on clean energy projects and infrastructure. This would be a validation of the increasing focus on ESG concerns. The venture community has been slow to adopt these measures, but as limited partners become more insistent on investment firms incorporating these ideas into their strategies, GPs may be compelled to accelerate plans to improve in these areas.
Biden’s Clean Energy Revolution plan could definitely see the light of day in a Democratic-controlled Congress. The plan would encourage using the federal government procurement system to drive towards 100 percent clean energy and zero-emissions vehicles, bolstering federal investment in clean energy R&D, and enhancing the electric vehicle tax credit.
Farrah believes that the venture community will play a major role in the next generation of energy and sustainability technologies. “A lot of tech innovation that aims to solve problems brought on by climate change problems will come from venture-backed companies,” he said.
Despite the events on Capitol Hill this week, Farrah is optimistic that Congress will work together with the new administration.
“Even though we had the Senate flipped this week, that doesn’t mean all the ambitious plans under the Biden administration will be enacted,” he said. “There are a lot of moderate Democrats in Congress, and I expect a lot of filibuster.”
He added: “But I’m optimistic that the partisan bickering will end with the Trump era and that Congress will move forward to business as usual.”
A version of the above story was first published on affiliate title Buyouts.