Nearly 90 people from 33 states representing American Rental Association (ARA) general and associate member businesses met with their respective senators and representatives or their staff members during the 2009 ARA National Legislative Caucus held in Washington, D.C., April 21-23.
ARA members spent time on Capitol Hill voicing their concerns on issues (see story on page 58) and urging members of the House of Representatives and the Senate to oppose the Employee Free Choice Act also known as “card check”; support an amendment proposed by Sens. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) that would set estate tax exemption levels at $5 million per person, $10 million for couples and a tax rate of 35 percent on amounts above the exemption levels; and support market-based health care reform.
Christine Wehrman, ARA’s executive vice president and CEO, said influencing policy development in the United States is an individual responsibility.
“The caucus is all about ARA members being active in that process, taking the steps to voice their individual positions on key issues while they are being considered within Congress. This is an invaluable step for every rental business because policy decisions that are made directly impact the potential for profitability. These three issues are certainly prime examples of that this year and attendees did a great job of representing the industry views,” she said.
“This was a very successful caucus because these issues, which are very important to ARA members, are on the front burner of Congress right now,” said John McClelland, ARA’s vice president for government affairs.
“We were there at a time that it was important to be there and have our voices heard. Also, our members were engaged and focused. The level of interest, intensity and purpose was higher than it has been,” he said.
“This has been a great week and this group has been together since we got here and we hit the ground running,” said Buddy Stubbs, owner of Busylad Rent-All, Tupelo, Miss., and ARA’s president.
“This is good for ARA members and the industry as a whole. It is an energizing experience,” said Mark Clawson, Diamond Rentals, Salt Lake City.
Brian Maginnis, American Rentals, Long Beach, Calif., was attending his third caucus and said his annual meetings with the same people during caucus in Washington, D.C., are helping to build credibility. “They seem to listen more. I think the more we do this, the more our stories are being heard,” he said.
“I also brought my insurance figures showing how premiums have increased over the years and that hit home. Hearing our individual stories can help,” Maginnis said.
As proof of the benefit of building relationships with senators and representatives over the years, the Kentucky delegation of David Wilcox, General Rental Center, Frankfort, Ky.; Terry Bryant, Bryant’s Rent-All of Lexington, Lexington, Ky.; Kirk Edwards, KIT-Mo Rental & Supply Co., Paducah, Ky.; and Steve Darnell, Nu-Way Equipment Rental, Shepherdsville, Ky., met with Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who is the Senate Republican Leader in the 111th Congress.
Sen. McConnell, who agrees with ARA’s stance regarding the Employee Free Choice Act, estate taxes and health care reform, updated the Kentucky delegation on the current status of the issues and his hopes for the future in the half-hour meeting at his offices in the Capitol building.
Mike Blaisdell, ARA’s Region Eight director from Bunce Rental, Tacoma, Wash., who was attending his second caucus, said this year was a bit different. “We had a more difficult time making appointments ahead of time, but we were able to show up at offices to drop off an information packet. We asked if we could speak to someone and they accommodated us,” he said.
“Also, last year was an election year and the people we would meet would say, ‘Yes, these are issues, but nothing is going to happen.’ This year, I think things are going to happen. Three of our representatives said something is going to happen on health care in June,” he said.
John Crabbe Jr., CERP, ARA’s chairman of the board from Vermont Tent Co., South Burlington, Vt., said the Vermont delegation “had great visits” including time with Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.). “About estate taxes, he asked us what we wanted to see. We explained the ideal and then what we would go for. He was all ears. He understands small business and knows rental,” Crabbe said.
Diamond Rental’s Clawson also said his meeting with Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah), was positive. “He was very open to every single issue we presented and very receptive. I think there is a noticeable difference in tone. It was really hard to get appointments this year, but I would say, at least from Jim Matheson, there is more optimism in getting big issues moved, like health care, and that there would be some sort of middle-ground compromise,” Clawson said.
Joseph Muench, ARA’s Region Seven director from Action Equipment Rental, Las Cruces, N.M., was one of 21 first-time ARA caucus attendees. He described his time in Washington, D.C., as “eye-opening. This excites the members and it’s beneficial for the association.”
Malcolm Graffam, J & J Sales, Saco, Maine, was a first-time caucus attendee and said he was able to see both ends of the spectrum, participating with ARA’s Massachusetts delegation in what he described as a “feisty” meeting with staff members in the office of Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and also meeting with Maine’s senators, who agreed with ARA’s stance on all three issues. “It was very good and very educational,” he said.
Jerry Kortesmaki, London Road Rental, Duluth, Minn., said adding Dennis Von Ruden, representing ARA associate member General Equipment Co., Owatonna, Minn., was beneficial.
“To go into offices with an associate member helped show the size and scope of the association. Dennis would say, ‘I build the stuff they rent. They need me and I need them.’ I think the senators and congressmen were interested in hearing those stories,” Kortesmaki said.
The caucus agenda started with an overview session on Tuesday afternoon at the Washington Court Hotel followed by remarks from Bernadette Budde, senior vice president for the Business Industry Political Action Committee (BIPAC), who offered her take on what is happening in Washington, D.C.
Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.), the ranking minority member of the education and labor committee, was the guest speaker for the ARA Political Action Committee (ARAPAC) reception on Tuesday night, which raised $12,000.
On Wednesday morning, Steven Replogel, a staff member from the office of Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), updated attendees on the status of the Employee Free Choice Act and Anna Taylor, from the office of Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), spoke about the estate tax issue. Amanda Austin, manager, legislative affairs, National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), also spoke about health care reform.