ARA members address critical issues on Capitol Hill

More than 80 American Rental Association (ARA) members from 34 states traveled to Washington, D.C., last week to personally meet with their U.S. representatives and senators by participating in ARA’s National Legislative Caucus.

The annual caucus this year focused on the issues of tax reform, including the permanent extension of the Section 179 expensing provision and repeal of the Health Insurance Tax (HIT) contained in the current health care legislation. ARA’s Government Affairs Committee was integral in planning and implementing the caucus program.

Following briefing sessions at The Liaison Capitol Hill, during which speakers gave additional background on these key issues, participants left for appointments on Capitol Hill made prior to arriving in Washington, D.C. These face-to-face visits with members of Congress and their staff allowed ARA members to establish and build relationships with legislators and express the concerns of the industry through facts, figures and personal stories.

“The ARA Legislative Caucus is a critical activity because it gives the association and its members a vital presence in Washington, D.C. This is the practice of democracy at its very best. Those who represent us in Congress need to hear from ARA members on key issues that affect the way business is done throughout the equipment rental industry,” said Christine Wehrman, ARA’s executive vice president and CEO.

Opening sessions were designed to prepare attendees for making the most of their time on Capitol Hill. During the Tuesday opening session, Mike Blaisdell, ARA president and vice president of Bunce Rental in Tacoma, Wash., talked about the importance of the work ARA members do at caucus.

“No matter who is in what seat in Congress, and whether or not you voted for them, one thing remains constant. We need to continue to educate those who represent us on the issues important in our industry. You are here to help in that effort by conveying the association’s messages on tax reform and the Health Insurance Tax. You are the face and voice of equipment rental and you matter most to those you will be visiting this week,” he said.

The Wednesday morning session opened with Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah), who is the lead cosponsor of H.R. 763, which amends the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and repeals the HIT provision. In addition to offering details about HIT, he stressed that, “This is not about the broader bill. This is about a tax on small businesses that is not equitable and will have a negative effect on your ability to hire and grow your business. You really are providing a service by being here to raise awareness of this bill,” he said.

Following Rep. Matheson, participants heard from Amanda Austin, director of federal public policy for the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), regarding the HIT issue. She addressed some of the arguments attendees might hear in their conversations on the Hill, including its cost. Because repealing HIT would reduce revenues, there is always the question of how to replace those revenues.

In addressing that question, Austin said, “This is the third largest tax in the ACA, scheduled to bring in $8 billion in 2014 alone. The bills to repeal the HIT don’t include a pay-for, but legislation is introduced all the time without an offset. We can address that later when it comes up for passage. Right now we need to focus on what this will do to small businesses.”

Once the morning session adjourned, participants went straight to Capitol Hill to keep hundreds of meetings with senators and representatives, while still making and receiving phone calls to confirm appointments. Many attendees were able to have visits with their senators and representatives in person, while others met with staff members. Because of the amount of legislative activity during caucus, some meetings took place in the hall, outside a committee room, in the elevator or walking with a congressman on the way to the Capitol for a vote.

Participants were enthusiastic following their first day of meetings, confident that they had educated legislators by bringing ARA’s issues to their attention and using personal stories that helped make their point.

“I thought we’d be talking with our representatives about things they know well, but I found that not to be the case,” said Rory Robinson, Appel’s Rent All, Gilbert, Ariz.

“It was eye-opening to see how the process works,” said Greg Nelson, Brown Rental, Boise, Idaho. “Getting our issues out there is something important that needs to be done and I look forward to more.”

Jeff Johnstone, CERP, owner of Party Perfect, Richmond, Va., and ARA Region Three director, said he learned a lot during his experience on the Hill. “I was with an experienced group, which really helped. During our conversations, I realized that these are real people who do care and can be just as frustrated as we are over these issues. Voicing our concerns and telling our story really helped educate them on why these issues need their attention,” he said.

Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.), lead sponsor of H.R. 763, spoke at Wednesday evening’s reception, where he highlighted the importance of ARA’s activity on the Hill and the issues participants addressed.

“I know you are busy running your businesses, so I appreciate you being here. There’s a lot of noise up here, but if you work together on your issues, we can get things done. The fact that you are here will increase awareness of your issues, creating support and cosponsors for our legislation,” he said.

Participants’ enthusiasm was evident during the reception, through their conversations and generous contributions to ARA’s Political Action Committee (ARAPAC). After a final push at the Thursday morning session, ARAPAC raised $20,816, breaking last year’s record for caucus.

“ARAPAC works for the whole industry and accomplishes a great deal for ARA’s government affairs program by contributing to senators and representatives who support our key issues and those that serve on the House or Senate committees that have jurisdiction over those issues,” said Buddy Stubbs, ARAPAC chairman and president of Busylad Rent-All, Tupelo, Miss. “I’m deeply grateful to everyone who contributed.”

Before Thursday morning appointments on the Hill, John McClelland, ARA’s vice president of government affairs, and Alysia Ryan, ARA’s director of state government affairs, emphasized the impact of state and local connections and the importance of taking the Capitol Hill experience home to continue making legislative progress for the equipment rental industry.

“Coming here and talking with legislators is the most powerful form of advocacy there is. You really do make a difference here. Go back home and stay in touch with them. You’re developing a presence in their minds so they’re thinking of the equipment rental industry and small business as they make policy,” Ryan said.

Caucus ended with a closing luncheon at The Capitol Hill Club, which featured Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, as the speaker. He addressed tax reform in general and reiterated the importance of ARA’s presence in Washington, D.C., and at the state level.

“I want to hear from those who will be affected by tax issues. I want to know what we can do with tax reform to help your businesses grow. It’s really important that you’re here now, but it’s also important to do this back home,” he said. Chairman Camp’s committee has sole jurisdiction over tax matters in the House of Representatives and the U.S. Constitution mandates that all tax measures originate in the House.

McClelland concluded the event with words of appreciation for the efforts of all those in attendance. “Participation in caucus requires ARA members to take time away from their businesses for the purpose of representing the equipment rental industry in Washington, D.C. I appreciate the efforts of those who took the time to deliver important messages on our issues to their elected representatives. This is the essence of grassroots action and is one of the most effective ways to influence public policy. Great volunteers make a great organization and this is another large step toward building an even more effective organization together,” he said.