Plumbing and Mechanical

PM On The Road: 2011 PHCC Legislative Conference

May 12, 2011
Senior Editor Mike Miazga is in Washington, D.C., meeting with congressman as part of PHCC's two-day legislative conference.

Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C. [Photo credit: Mike Miazga/Plumbing & Mechanical.]


Greetings from Capitol Hill!

I’m typing this from the cafeteria of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Rayburn Building. I mention this only because it feels like Christmas as a kid. They have free Internet here (after an hour search earlier for a place near the Hill that had a connection).

PHCC is here holding its annual legislative meetings, which includes lobbying sessions with senators and congressmen on hot-button topics germane to the plumbing, heating and cooling industries. And believe me, there is plenty to talk about.

The conference kicked off Wednesday with a powerful session loaded with informative and engaging speakers - highlighted by ABC News Senior Congressional Correspondent Jonathan Karl.

One of the most respected television journalists around, Karl captivated and brought the house to frequent moments of laughter with his thoughts, insights and stories about all things related to politics.

Karl lamented about the massive interest payments the country is currently saddled with - 928 billion bucks to be specific by the 10th year of the current budget forecast, he pointed out - and a new airport, with a hefty price tag, in Kansas that currently sits empty. His point being there are a few things that need fixing.

His speech started a consistent theme throughout the day that folks like PHCC members can make a difference and can influence the actions of the very politicians they are here to visit with.

Dr. Winslow Sargeant, chief counsel-advocacy with the U.S. Small Business Administration, really got the ball moving talking about the plight of the small-business owner in this country. He mentioned that A.O. Smith started out making baby carriages and bicycles in Wisconsin as a small business.

In total, he noted, there are 27.5 million small businesses in the country, no small chunk of change. It also was pointed out 65 percent of all net new jobs in this country are coming from small businesses.

“Reducing regulations on small businesses is a high priority to us,” Sargeant told the crowd. “If you are being regulated, the regulatee should have a say.”

Sargeant’s session also brought forth an unscheduled but passionate discussion on the effect unlicensed contractors are having on the industry - “bootleggers,” as one veteran attendee described them.

“We’re the ones targeted for regulation,” a California contractor told Sargeant. “These guys (the unlicensed contractors) are undercutting what we can accomplish and are driving down prices.”

Sargeant said the unlicensed contractor issue is something his office would be interested in looking into further.

It’s a discussion such as that where things can get accomplished. I was riveted by the back-and-forth on the topic. 

PHCC Government Relations Director Mark Riso addresses the crowd at the 2011 PHCC Legislative Conference. [Photo credit: Mike Miazga/Plumbing & Mechanical.]

Wisconsin Congressman Reid Ribble told Thursday morning’s assembled breakfast crowd that while there is a lot going on in Washington and it may look complicated from the outside, it really isn’t.

“Less than 5 percent of people in the House of Representatives have run a small business,” said Ribble, himself a former roofing contractor. “The government needs people like you.”

That’s the crux of it.

As PHCC Government Relations Director Mark Riso pointed out, PHCC members possess invaluable real-life experiences and stories that can be told to their senators and congressmen. Those are the powerful stories that can bring into clear focus what plumbing contractors are going through on a day-to-day basis and how certain legislation or lack thereof can adversely affect their businesses.

On top of some truly awesome weather here and the pageantry and hustle-and-bustle that goes with being in Washington (I literally smiled when I first walked into the House building this morning when it hit me where I was), it’s great to see the passionate and committed individuals that comprise PHCC coming together to truly make a difference in this industry.

That’s how beneficial changes are made.

In tomorrow’s installment, I’ll recap what a lobbying session is like and walk you through some of the specific issues that PHCC members are talking about with their local senators and congressmen.