Washington D.C. — UPDATE

I was in Washington D.C. this past week, and the city’s mood had a unique feel.  It’s always about politics in this city which breaths and lives political intrigue and policy wonkiness, but there was a feeling that there were going to be significant changes in November.  The Republicans were starting to count the days until the elections and the potential for talking control of the House, with a slight possibility of controlling the Senate.  Democrats were jumping ship from President Obama’s tax proposals and rifts were occurring within the Republican Party as a variety of primaries were being heavily influenced by the Tea Party (Delaware’s  O’Donnell upset main-line Republican Mike Castle).

Why was I in Washington?  Every two years PIA hosts a legislative conference, which brings together PIA members and staff from across the U.S., so they can meet with legislators and voice our industry’s concerns.   Most of the meetings were with Republican congressional representatives with a smattering of Blue Dog democrats.  Why these groups?  It’s just a matter of interests.  Folks who sit on the Democratic side of the aisle normally don’t regard business issues as something that’s important to them and their constituents. That’s just a sad fact of life for the printing industry.  So, we meet with the folks who are willing to listen to our issues – which are small business ones.

Our industry targeted several areas, but there were two key ones – the postal exigency rate case and taxes.  As many know, the postal exigency rate case has created a massive response from publishers, printers and mailers.  Never before have we seen the kind of reaction from this community.  It is felt by the mailing/printing community this increase, which far exceeds the limits set by the 2006 postal reform legislation, could be a precedent setting situation.  In affect, allowing the USPS to increase rates on a regular basis without dealing with their fundamental structural issues– a structure that is not balanced with mail volume.  Granted Postmaster Potter has been able to reduce costs over the past few years – but he still has a long way to go with a system where 80% of its costs are labor.

Although not really a legislative issue, Congress can help the USPS reduce its costs.  One of the solutions lies in the way retirement benefits have been calculated and funded.   The other resolution is restructuring the infrastructure.  There are many postal centers and retail outlets that should be/must be shuttered, but the pressure congress will feel from labor and constituents to keep them open  will be tremendous.  Last week our industry’s message to over 80 members of Congress was that postal rate increases can not continue in this vein.  In the long term it is damaging to commerce, because it is business that really uses the mail system.  The days of Aunt Gracie sending letters to her nephews and nieces via mail has gone the way of the Betamax.

Taxes are another issue of concern. Much of what our industry voiced was nothing new to the Members of Congress.  With 50% of small business potentially impacted with the Administration’s proposal to exclude the “wealthy” from the Bush tax cuts, and the “death” tax rolling back to $1MM exclusion and a 55% tax rate, none of this is palatable to small businesses.  And the Members of Congress we spoke to understand these issues.

Another area of concern, which was voiced strongly by many of our PIA members, was in regards to the President’s proposed small business “relief.”  Almost every company owner in attendance stated that pumping federal money through the banks is not going to solve the problem.  The banks have the money; it’s the regulators who are leaning on them, or the specter of more regulations which doesn’t provide many banks the appropriate incentives.  As one printer said, “in today’s highly competitive marketplace, there’s no way I can come up with a 30-40% down payment to buy a major piece of equipment – and that’s limiting my ability to grow my business.”  As well as adding employees, which tends to be the magic words everyone in Congress wants to hear.

Did everyone hear the message?  Yes.  Did they all agree with our positions?  Not necessarily, but that’s the way our system works.  There are always two sides to the story – and it’s important to tell our industry’s.  Case in point was that most of the legislative staffers (occasionally you speak to an elected leader) we spoke to knew about the postal exigency rate case.  The reason being that the USPS had been talking to them as well as the USPS labor unions.  We were the first business group speaking to them who opposed the increase and the negative impact it would have to the users of the mail system — and that’s the way our legislative process works.  If you’re not at the table, you don’t get fed.

Fortunately, we have professionals like Lisbeth Lyons and Julie Riccio who represent our industry in Washington D.C. — but they can’t do it alone.   Become informed.  Ask questions.  And remember, Lisbeth, Julie, and the various PIA staffers can not do it alone — they need your help.  So, next time you are upset about issues, find a way to get to the table.  It might be picking up the phone and calling your legislator or  inviting him/her to visit your plant.  Maybe you can attend the next Legislative Conference, or  maybe it’s time to make a contribution to PrintPAC so we can ensure that our industry’s voice is heard.

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