People often ask me what a lobbyist does, or specifically, what does a lobbyist representing HVACR distributors do? Well, I could spin tales of big meetings on Capitol Hill or strategy sessions over cocktails, but the reality is that I spend the majority of my time listening. Listening to distributors, manufacturers, contractors and other people interested in our industry about what specifically is impacting their businesses on a day-to-day basis. They often bring up taxes and Congress, but by far the No. 1 topic is some sort of regulation from the federal government.
Regulations come in many forms, from Department of Transportation rules on trucks and shipping, to OSHA regulations dealing with workplace safety. We have regulations that impact the manner in which we hire employees via the EEOC and how we discipline and fire workers courtesy of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The products in our industry have the distinct pleasure of being regulated by the Department of Energy, which governs the efficiency levels, and the Environmental Protection Agency, which covers refrigerants.
Needless to say, there are a lot of regulations and requirements that go with operating a business. Part of the reason for this is that for years, Congress has authored vague legislation that gives regulatory bodies the power and jurisdiction to serve as de facto lawmakers. A perfect example of this is the Affordable Care Act, which was a 2,000-plus-page bill that has spawned more than 20,000 pages (and counting) in regulations.
In his new book “The Great Degeneration: How Institutions Decay and Economies Die,” author and Harvard Professor Niall Ferguson singles out regulatory and bureaucratic impediments as a drag on growth and a competitive disadvantage for our country.
Ferguson writes, “In terms of ‘voice and accountability,’ ‘government effectiveness,’ ‘regulatory quality’ and especially ‘control of corruption,’ the U.S. scores have all gone down since the World Governance Institute project began in the mid-1990s. It would be tempting to say that America is turning Latin, were it not for the fact that a number of Latin American countries have been improving their governance scores over the same period.”
While it may seem as if Washington has turned a deaf ear to the impact of regulations on businesses, there are a few legislators and bills out there that I believe can help not only those of us in the HVACR industry but the nation as well.
The first legislation is the “REINS ACT,” with REINS standing for Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny, and would require an up or down vote by both the Senate and the House on regulations that are deemed to have a major economic impact in the United States. In the House, Rep. Todd Young (R-IN), and in the Senate, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), are authors of the bill. This bill would restore some form of accountability on the regulatory entities in Washington and would prevent legislators from simply saying, “There was nothing that I could do about that,” when confronted with an unpopular regulation.
Another bill that I believe deserves consideration is the “Protect Small Business Jobs Act” introduced by Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R-MI). This common- sense regulation would give small businesses a grace period to correct or clear up a regulatory violation before issuing a sanction or fine. This law is necessary because it is unreasonable to expect small businesses to be fully aware and comply with the more than 200,000 pages in the regulatory code. Giving businesses the opportunity to do the right thing is something the government should support.
Unfortunately, these bills face an uphill battle, which is why it is important for all of us to continue to remind our elected officials of the challenges that regulations put on our businesses on a day-to-day basis and the need for real reform on this topic. Perhaps Ferguson does state it best when he writes, “We can carry on pretending that our economic problems can be solved with the help of yet more fiscal stimulus or quantitative easing. Or we can face up to the institutional impediments to growth … Not many economists talk about them, it’s true. But that’s because not many economists run businesses.”
Jon Melchi is HARDI’s government affairs manager. Contact him at 614/345-HEAT (4328) or [email protected].