This is the third year that I have covered the PHCC’s Legislative Conference. It’s one of my favorite events to cover for CONTRACTOR. Observing PHCC members lobbying senators and representatives is fascinating — I never imagined that I would have an opportunity to walk the halls of Congress and see the U.S. federal system in action. This is why the Legislative Conference is pretty much my favorite event of the year. Not many people have such an opportunity. Click here to view all the photos from the Legislative Conference.
At the conference, Health Care Reform (the Affordable Care Act) was the issue. Not to make the Lead Paint Rule second best, since it is also an important issue affecting the industry, but Health Care Reform is on the minds of business owners, and most Americans, as we inch closer and closer to October, when the Health Insurance Exchanges open up. However, the exchanges for small businesses have been delayed until 2015.
While visiting Tennessee senators and representatives (for the day I had the pleasure of tagging along with PHCC Tennessee members David Dugger, president of PHCC — National Association and president and CEO of ShoffnerKalthoff Mechanical Electrical Service; Beth Killen, executive director of PHCC of Tennessee; Rick Thompson, service manager of the controls division at Shoffner Mechanical Services; and Michael Vance, vice president at Advanced Heat Pump Systems), it was evident that senators, representatives and their aids don’t even understand the effects that the Health Care Reform will have. I can’t blame them since this is a complex document with more than 15,000 pages of regulations. I don’t even know how one starts to go through 15,000 pages of regulations to understand how this will affect business owners and American citizens. Plus, something in theory is completely different than something in action. When discussing this issue, the Tennessee members noted to Congressmen that this is creating uncertainty. All the Congressmen we met with agreed with PHCC Tennessee members. At this point, it seems that there is no solution in sight to the uncertainty and that we — as a country — have to take a “wait and see” approach.
I also talked with other PHCC members that were at the event, and they too had similar experiences when lobbying their senators and representatives about the Affordable Care Act.
“Personally, I don’t think anyone we spoke to in D.C. understands all the ramifications of the ACA,” said Brian McDonald, general manager of Outer Banks Heating and Cooling. “I think most are as confused and uncertain as we are about it. How can we budget for something that we don’t know a cost for? Do we have to raise prices 1% or 10% to make up for the additional cost? No one has been able to tell us with 100% certainty how or even if it will affect us.”
“Our agent is advising us that because of Obamacare our rates will go up between 80% to 140% next renewal,” said Mark Giebelhaus, president of Marlin Mechanical Corporation. “How do we price our product when we don’t know what our costs will be? Will we even be able to continue to provide health coverage for our employees? Will we be better off paying the penalty for not providing it and force the employees to the Exchange?”
Regardless of the unknown and frustration surrounding the ACA, lobbying members of Congress is the best thing PHCC members can do to voice their opinions and concerns, and make a change!
Mark Riso, PHCC’s vice president and director of government relations, summed it up perfectly. “We need to have a certain mindset when talking with senators and representatives,” said Riso. “We need to have partial blinders on. There is opportunity everywhere on Capitol Hill. For every scandal or negative thing you hear about Capitol Hill there are 100 good things about Capitol Hill. Most people want to do the right thing there. Representatives and senators want to serve the people. They came into these positions to serve. As PHCC members we need to leave the planet better than what we found it. We need to advocate. We need to play the system. We need to make it known that PHCC is the oldest trade association in the country … 131 years old. We have a lot of credibility on the Hill.
“We need to get back to fundamentals — this means build relationships,” added Riso. “Besides voting, lobbying is the next best thing we can do.”
A clarifying election
During Wednesday’s events, Ken Walsh, Chief White House Correspondent, U.S. News & World Report, spoke to members about the state of Washington and President Barack Obama’s second term.
Regarding the health care issue, Walsh said that we can’t erase the uncertainty.
“There is no agreement on how to deal with how to administer this,” said Walsh. “We are stuck with this system and this change. Small businesses will have a tough time dealing with this. We don’t know how this will work out. There is also a problem with our budget in general. Washington is in a period of dysfunction. I don’t see any resolution of this.”
Walsh also discussed Obama’s agenda for his second term, and referenced the Second Term Curse.
“The central issue is unemployment and the economy,” said Walsh. “Unemployment is a very serious problem. Washington is letting people down. Regarding the budget, the dysfunction is so deep and stalemate so deep. There is no relief in sight.”
All this is doom and gloom, but Walsh pointed out that there is a way these issues can be settled: the midterm elections next year!
“If the country can agree on where we are going, people will need to show this in an election,” said Walsh. “This needs to be a clarifying election. In the meantime, a positive is that people are going back to the Federal System as they did years ago. We will need to see how this plays out by going to the state level and getting things done.
“The basic question is: Is country going into more of a liberal or conservative direction?”