As I See It

The political forecast is generally no with an occasional yes

Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors – National Association held its annual Legislative Conference in Washington in late May and the contractors’ lobbying efforts were a slam-dunk. From what I heard from the contractors who lobbied on Capitol Hill, both Democrats and Republicans agreed with them. First of all, the contractors asked for a reauthorization of the Perkins Act, a block grant program to the states for funding career and technical education. It’s a jobs bill that addresses American competitiveness. How can you be against that?

The second thing they asked for was for Congress to help put pressure on regulatory agencies to give the industry a seat at the table. The three regulatory efforts the PHCC-National pointed to were an expansion by the EPA of the Lead Paint Rule, the energy efficiency regulations that the Department of Energy had been sued into redoing from scratch, and the 2015 water heater regulations. It’s not that the industry is in favor of lead poisoning or against energy efficiency, but the rules might have been better written with industry input. Given the anti-regulation mood in Congress, that message was well received.

But one of the really interesting parts of the Legislative Conference was the keynote address by Bob Cusack, managing editor of the political website The Hill, who attempted to answer some of the big political questions of the day. The answer to most of those questions is no.

Will anything pass Congress? No. It’s one of the most ineffective Congresses ever with partisanship gripping Washington and an erosion of trust on both sides.

Can Obama get his groove back? 2013 was a tough year where the President accomplished nothing on gun control or immigration reform and his approval ratings sank into the 40s.

Will the Senate flip to the Republicans? There’s better than a 50:50 chance but Cusack cautioned that the same thing could have been said in 2012 and the Democrats picked up two seats.

Will John Boehner retire? Has he had enough? He’s bought a condo in Florida and some of his key staff members have left.

Will Hillary run? Yes. The Hill polled Democrats in Congress and asked if they would support Hillary in the primary. Sixty said yes. Some prominent Obama backers have said publicly that they will support Hillary. That kind of early support tends to scare away challengers.

Who will be the GOP nominee? No idea.

Will immigration reform pass this year? Boehner has said that he wants a majority of his caucus in favor of an issue before he will move anything for a vote. The Hispanic community is important to business and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is pushing for a vote.

Will there be an extension of jobless benefits or an increase in the minimum wage? With Obama’s low numbers, Congress won’t pass anything this year.

What will happen to Obamacare? The problem is that there is no workable replacement and several million people already have benefits.

What about tax reform? The last time it was done was 1986. A few individual bills might get through the lame duck session in December.

Will there be NSA reform? This is threading the needle between national security and personal privacy.

Will spending bills pass? Something will have to pass or there will be another government shutdown. Problem is that neither side can agree on any details.

Foreign policy? This is a big fail, especially on Putin. The American public, however, is world-weary. See the question of intervention in Syria to which the voters said no, no, and hell no. Sanctions on Iran are on the back burner. Troops will probably be out of Afghanistan by 2015 because there’s no other security deal in place with the Afghan government. Cyber warfare with China will be an issue for the next several decades.

The problem, Cusack said, is that Obama has no traction on anything. Unable to pass anything in Congress he’s turned to Executive Orders and regulation has become the new legislation on issues such as the Dream Act and climate change. He hasn’t made a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline because it would divide Democrats going into the mid-term elections.

Obama will continue to be dogged by controversies surrounding the IRS, NSA and the VA. The Obama team is great at campaigning but they can’t create a healthcare website or run anything.

The erosion of trust between the White House and Congress, Cusack said, started during the first debt ceiling fight. Both sides lost faith in each other.

On the other hand, the GOP brand is weak, he said; it’s perceived to be the party of wealthy whites. They might do well in 2014 but they can’t win in 2016. The Tea Party and the business wing of the GOP have to get on the same page.

The Democrats will lose at least a half dozen seats in the House this year and maybe more. But will this be a ripple, a wave or a tsunami for Republicans? The bellwether race will be Al Franken’s Senate race in Minnesota, Cusack said. If this race is still a tossup in September, it’s going to be a GOP tsunami.

If the GOP takes both houses in November, will anything get done? No. Everybody will be looking at 2016.

Who else will run besides Hillary? Probably Joe Biden and somebody like Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. Elizabeth Warren has already said she won’t run, which vexes the left, which wants a liberal challenger to Hillary.

Will Hillary’s age be an issue? Probably not because she’ll still be younger than Reagan, but her ties to Wall Street may be a bigger problem.

Cusack half-jokingly said that the Republicans have 42 presidential hopefuls. Look for an anti-Washington movement.

Will Nancy Pelosi retire if the Democrats have a really bad 2014? Will Harry Reid retire? Will Mitch McConnell lose his reelection bid?

Will anything get done at all? Nope. Everything of substance that’s been accomplished over the last several decades has been done with bi-partisan support. We’ll have to wait until 2017 for government to start functioning again.


The more I hear about Bill Howe from our Contractor of the Year Bill Howe Plumbing (At Contractor of the Year Bill Howe Plumbing, They Know Howe) I realize that one of the secret ingredients of the company is Bill Howe himself. Bill somehow has an innate sense of how to deal with young men — how to motivate them, how much slack to give them, and how to get them focused on developing a career. It’s a gift and Bill knows how to use it.


I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it: watch out for the San Diego Chapter of Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors, especially what they’re doing in terms of both plumbing and HVAC apprenticeship training. The San Diego apprentice training facility, by the way, features a wall of Milwaukee Tools. This goes back to what I was saying a couple weeks ago about contractors patronizing companies that ask for their business (Why I think it’s important that Kohler appoints PHCC members to its Plumber Advisory Council). PHCC-SD Executive Director Danielle Dorsey told me that reps from some of those other tool companies didn’t return her phone calls. Donating all of those tools is some of the smartest use of marketing dollars that local Milwaukee rep could have made. Milwaukee accomplishes two things by donating all of those tools: they’re indoctrinating apprentices to use Milwaukee Tools and they’re getting me to give them free publicity. That’s what I’m talking about. And, Steve Richman, we still need to drink some tequila together.

Every once in a while, I have something to say on Twitter @bobmader.

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