What do lobbyists on Capitol Hill actually do?
I was able to get a “behind-the-scenes” look into what goes on during a lobbying session at the recently completed PHCC Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C.
PHCC members from around the country spent an entire day at House of Representative and Senate offices talking to their local politicians on issues that are near-and-dear to plumbing, heating and cooling contractors.
I shadowed two PHCC state contingents as they met with their local politicians, starting with Rep. Dan Lungren from California. Lungren is a hero to PHCC. He’s the one that spearheaded the recent repeal of the 1099 tax bill that would have placed an extreme burden on plumbing, heating and cooling businesses.
Here’s where the behind-the-scenes stuff comes in. Each congressman and senator has an office in one of six buildings located on The Hill, separated by the Capitol. Did you know it was President Ronald Reagan who changed the presidential inauguration site to the back of the Capitol? Oddly, the back of the Capitol is dotted with palm trees.
Each office pays homage to that particular state/politician. I saw one office with animal furs on the wall. Another office had a plethora of sports pennants. Each office has a distinctly different feel. The offices are somewhat small (I saw some offices with five to six staffers in them), but still have that efficient and welcoming feel to them.
I met up with the California group and we were told Rep. Lungren was in a special meeting (having to do with security, I believe). We were led down to the meeting room and waited for him to emerge. When he did, he talked to the group for about five minutes, leading off about the 1099 repeal. Several other issues were brought up before Lungren departed. He was honored later in the day at a PHCC reception held specifically for him. PHCC presented him with a unique faucet trophy/statue.
One thing of note: These folks are legitimately busy and that’s no political rhetoric. When you look at five minutes, you might think, that’s all the time they had? The meeting Lungren was in looked and sounded like serious business. I’m sure the California PHCC troupe was more than thankful for his time.
More on the busy front. The impression I got was these congressmen and senators, as well as their staffs, tend to work some long hours. I noticed a doctor-on-call office in one of the House buildings, along with a barber and an elaborate cafeteria (it felt like I was eating in grandma’s dining room).
After the California stop, I walked up the street to a meeting with Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts. I must say I was impressed with the PHCC Massachusetts turnout. There were some 15 members there to meet with Brown.
Brown was quite engaging with the group and chatted for about five minutes. I was struck by how down-to-earth both Lungren and Brown were.
That’s what it’s like to lobby. There were many other groups doing the same thing that day. A group that appeared to be affiliated with something having to do with motorcycles (a lot of motorcycle vests) had some impressive numbers on The Hill.
I’m sure they were lobbying on issues that were just as important as the PHCC ones. I alluded to the 1099 repeal earlier. That has struck a massive chord (similar to the discussion the first day on fraudulent contractors) with the membership. The original provision as part of the new healthcare law would have required businesses to file 1099 forms with every business with which they buy at least $600 in goods and services each year.
Do the math on how devastating that could have been to small-business owners such as PHC contractors.
Other hot-button topics brought up by PHCC constituents on The Hill included opposition to the current estate tax. PHCC noted 33 percent of small-business owners report they expect all or part of their business to be liquidated when death taxes come due. PHCC supports legislation that would repeal the estate tax permanently. PHCC is encouraged by current law where the estate tax exemption is $5 million, while the top rate is 35 percent. If Congress does nothing, by the beginning of 2013, the rate will revert to 55 percent and the threshold/exemption would lower to $1 million.
Also of chief concern is the 3 percent withholding issue. In 2013, a new law will require federal, state and local governments to withhold 3 percent from all payments for goods and services as a guard against possible business tax evasion. The law requires withholding from 3 percent on all government payments for products and services made by the federal, state and local governments with total expenditures of $100 million or more. It also affects payment for goods and services under government contracts as well as payments to any person for a service or product provided to a government entity.
PHCC would like to see a full repeal of this. One of the key points here is most plumbing, heating and cooling contractors do not make a 3 percent profit on a contract. PHCC noted nowhere else is a professional’s take-home pay withheld as a cost of doing business.
Additionally, there is a bill that would cut $140.2 million from the Carl D. Perkins Career & Technical Education Act. This includes completely eliminating funding for tech prep and cutting basic state grants by $37.3. PHCC wants to educate politicians on the extreme benefit of this act and would like to see it restored to $1.3 billion. Cuts to Perkins reduces the number of educated, skilled workers at a time when there is a need to create jobs and rebuild the economy. Perkins ensures students have the academic, technical and employability skills necessary for true career readiness.
The other key lobbying issue was tax credits. Those credits, available to homeowners who make qualified energy-efficiency improvements to their primary residences, have been slashed from $1,500 to $500. PHCC would like to see those credits extended (they are set to expire at the end of 2011) and bumped back up to $1,500 in order to spur continued recovery and growth.
So not only were the politicians busy, but PHCC members were busy speaking about these key topics that cut right to the core of many of their businesses.
I was impressed that the congressmen and senators were able to talk to the people on the front lines. These were real-life small-business owners experiencing these issues on a day-to-day basis.
Prior to going to The Hill, PHCC members heard from Rep. Reid Ribble from Wisconsin and Rep. Chuck Fleischmann from Tennessee - both former small-business owners. Ribble was a roofing contractor and Fleischmann started a law firm where he made $50 his first month. They understand the struggles of small businesses.
And thanks to the passionate members of PHCC, many more of their peers now have a much better understanding.