Government Affairs: A year of challenges ahead

Educating legislators is a necessity

This year in Washington, D.C., will be full of challenges from budget issues to policy decisions. A number of items that were pushed off or only temporarily addressed in the previous session of Congress will surface again in the coming months, demanding attention and action from legislators and the business community, including the American Rental Association (ARA).

“This is an opportunity to fix what is broken and be part of the solution for the success of small business and the equipment rental industry,” says John McClelland, ARA’s vice president for government affairs.

On the surface, it seems little has changed in post-election Washington, D.C., in terms of the balance of power in the White House, the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Although party control in both chambers remains the same, the demographics of both bodies have changed dramatically. In addition to a record number of women serving and a wider variety of cultural backgrounds represented, an extremely large number of newcomers have come to Capitol Hill.

On Jan. 1, Congress swore in 13 new senators and 84 new members of the House of Representatives. Just under half of this session’s senators are serving their first six years in office and 169 members of the U.S. House of Representatives are serving their first or second term.

“This shift presents an opportunity for the equipment rental industry to educate incoming members on the issues of greatest concern to the industry and build new relationships that will help strengthen the voice of the industry,” McClelland says.

In addition, when looking at committee leadership and seniority, some big changes will be made as legislators move within committees or from one to another. Every committee is expected to have at least one brand new member.

“Focusing on House and Senate committees that have jurisdiction over issues of importance to the equipment rental industry is the key to a strong voice in Washington, D.C. The number of new committee members also will mean repeating the American Rental Association’s (ARA) message more often on the issues important to the industry, such as tax reform, transportation and infrastructure, and health care. This new audience gives businesspersons a great opportunity to help legislators understand the impact their policies have on the equipment rental industry, small business and the economy as a whole,” McClelland says.

In April, ARA members from across the country will visit Washington, D.C., for ARA’s annual National Legislative Caucus to visit with legislators in person and discuss these issues. Even those not attending can contact their representatives and introduce or reacquaint them with the equipment rental industry.

“Tell them how your business impacts the community where you live. Make sure they know which policies are your greatest concerns and how they impact the equipment rental industry. Laying this groundwork will make April’s visits even more effective and productive,” McClelland says.

The path to achieving the industry’s goals will not solely be through Congress, he says. “ARA also will be seeking to educate and communicate with regulators who have significant discretion in how laws are interpreted and implemented, and to elected court officials who are likely to be called upon for final rulings on key pieces of legislation. In addition, the 2014 election will have more governors’ races than senate races, giving an added opportunity to demonstrate grassroots power at the local level,” McClelland says.

Several ARA state associations have organized state legislative days during which members visit state representatives to discuss issues of concern at the state level. ARA state boards and legislative committees across the country are working on details for these events or following up on visits and issues, working to increase awareness of the needs of this industry at all levels of government.

“As constituents, ARA members have the opportunity not only to tell the story of the equipment rental industry, but also to put it in personal terms through our real-life stories and examples. These conversations effectively paint a picture for legislators at all levels of government to understand and appreciate how their decisions and policies affect the way business is done in this industry,” says Christine Wehrman, ARA’s executive vice president and CEO.

“As members of the business community, we have the responsibility to effectively communicate with elected officials, encouraging them to make the decisions that will help us and our industry remain strong into the future,” she says.