IndustryWeek Summit (Congressional Partisanship)

Dec. 21, 2004
Nov. 20, 1998, Washington, D.C.
BRANDT: Okay. ROGSTAD: Which gets to your second question. Increased partisanship is a style issue in Washington. And I think it does go to where Tom was saying, it is a different world. The partisan discussion is not casting up in front of us and the business community, or more importantly the American people. Real options, in terms of trade offs on the issues. I ask you to define what the partisan nature of this town casts up in terms of alternatives to social security, tax reform. You can go down the list. That is the real cost. I find our inability to -- Jerry is right. Our members are saying wait a minute. If you can't take the growth agenda that we all talk about and bring it back to the bottom line of the members, their pecuniary interest, which is a high motivator for their paying dues to all of us, gets diminished. But I think I would go further than Jerry. I know you agree with this. They do have another ulterior motive here. They are genuinely concerned about what is the nature of the policy environment, writ large five and ten years out. Somebody ought to worry about it and I can appreciate that. They have pulled away from that. They are saying there is no leadership in Washington and there is no real merit for us to take time away from those other important activities to go down and discuss that set of issues on taxes, social security, long term budget outlook, et cetera. That is a real cost. That is a real cost. And I think that is a challenge that all of us are facing in terms of how, in fact, do you re-engage the business leadership long-term back in its rightful balanced position in the discussions of this town. BRANDT: Jack? FARIS: The non-partisan, bi-partisanship issues. One of the things when we watched last night, if you look at the members of the committee, the Judiciary Committee, one ran for the Senate and got elected, one ran for the Senate and was defeated. About seven ran unopposed and the rest won by a ten points or more margin. What we find is people that win with sixty-five percent of the vote generally aren't persuaded very much by grass-roots. We have never felt that trying to leverage Charlie Rangle (D, N.Y.) in his district was really going to help us a lot. But we have also felt that trying to leverage Bill Archer (R, Texas) in his district in Houston was not going to help very much either. So if we look at the Congress, and we look at people who got re-elected this time, and they got re-elected by seven, five, seven, eight percent margin. Their number one issue in the 106th Congress is re-election. And we found that they see the light when they feel the heat a whole lot better. An old saying, but still true. So part of what we feel our responsibility is, is to make sure that the small business community knows and understands, first of all, what are the issues that we see coming up. Number two, what could this mean to your bottom line. Staying in business. But for our members, a little bit different twist in this independence business, that are privately owned businesses, the non-public businesses. They have a lot more about this ideology of freedom and independence. They really back off when they think the government is going to be more intruding in their life. Even if they can't see where it is going to effect their profitability. It is very important to them. The other issue is that, with the small business community, is we see things more like a consumer then we do the CEO of a Fortune. We react on making sure that we have the right of redress, legally. Don't take that away from us. But we also think that these people chasing ambulances are taking a lot of money they don't deserve. Our people want regulations and rules because they think if they don't have regulations and rules, big business and big government and big labor will run over them like a truck. So there is a reactive freedom that you find on Main Street. And the last point about the direction kind of things, partisanship or not, lest we forget and we forget in this town I find more quickly then most places, in the conversation in Congress had to do with what new programs, what new expansions will we have and where do we raise the taxes to get it. So we fought for carve-outs for small business. We talked and we spent most of our time trying to get one wheel off that wagon that was headed in the direction of more programs and more cost to Main Street. Well, the voting record of the chairs, the House and the Senate committees for small business NFIB was 19.7 percent. The small business voting record of the Congress coming in, chairs of the committees is 97 percent. Viva la difference. Therefore, the communication, I believe, in the next Congress, will still be how do we have a surplus. How do we still solve our problems without having to add a lot more burdens and taxes and regulations. We cannot let that direction change. To quote Mr. Holmes, Oliver Wendell type, when he said it matters not so much where one stands, as the direction in which one is moving. What we want to be very careful about is we are very close to Mr. Charles Rangel with a percent voting record being chair of the committee that will find more ways to tax our means as opposed to a Bill Archer, who is going to try and figure out how can we make things simpler and less -- and this doesn't have anything to do with Rs and Ds. Ralph Hall, if he was chair of a committee, he would be trying to figure out how to shrink this. Government has just gotten too big. But they are just -- for us, that is the reason we listen to our members. We take voting records. Non-partisan and because of that, people decide to vote with or against us. We don't decide to vote with or against them. So we don't care whether they are a D or an R. But I do know when they start voting for leadership, that a whole lot of Rs listen a whole lot better then a whole lot of Ds. Especially the leadership. So our job is to continue working with the blue dog Democrats. To continue working with some of the Republican districts that are marginal, and, therefore, they have a tendency to listen to the labor unions. In the northeast, well, our job is to make sure that they find out that there is more small business owners and families and employees then there are labor union bosses in those areas. And to find out a lot of those labor union members also are -- have a little painting company on the side. So our job is cut out for us big time for 2000. But we think is going to be largely determined by how we do our jobs at the grass-roots in '99 and early 2000. So that is where we will spend most of our effort and energy, is not here in this town. Although we are very pleased, we've got a good staff. We are not going to be adding more to staff. We are kind of a small business lean and mean. Where we are going to spend our time, effort and energy is back where these people who vote up here, none of them get elected here. We are going to spend our time where they get elected. That is where we are going to put our efforts. BRANDT: Do you have specific priorities you are going to focus on? FARIS: Well, our long-term priority and you were talking about earlier Tom, on the larger plans long- term, part of what we are trying to do with our membership is let them understand that NAFTA is not an auto parts house. That NAFTA -- what is NAFTA, and this is what it really means. And this is how it can be important to you. And then let them decide whether they are for or against. Because right now they are just kind of split on all that. I think the point needs to be brought home -- that a florist in Kansas needs to understand that what is going on in Asia is going to affect their florist business. And we've got to do a better job with them. And we are working to be leaders for small business to get the message. But at the same time understand that our members have three taxes that are the most onerous things they want to deal with. And they frankly do not understand any of the rhetoric against their opinions on all three. The one they pay the most is payroll tax. So God for forbid, the social security problems be solved on the back jobs on Main Street. That is the reason we like Senator Ashcroft's (R, Mo.) tax proposal that includes payroll tax as a part of what you pay in the flat income tax. A very interesting piece of his proposal. I really think he has hit on something there. We found out in the Kemp commission when we were studying tax reform. So we pay the most in payroll tax.
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