November 20, 2019

Congress: What is it good for?

Would you want to work for a company that had a 25 percent public favorability rating? Well, that’s what today’s current and future congressional staffers and Members of Congress face when they debate whether to apply for an internship or run for office. If an institution has failed so miserably that three quarters of the people it’s supposed to serve has rated it a failure, why work for or even with Congress? Why do we bother with congressional advocacy? Well, my friends, it all comes down to the long game.

On October 24, 2019, about 30 members of HPBA’s Board of Directors, North American Government Affairs Committee, and Affiliate Staff and Leaders met with over 60 congressional offices, including members of Congress and their staff. Before our “Hill Day,” a few members asked me whether impeachment discussions would distract members of Congress and their staff from the issues we’d like to talk to them about. The truth is, members of Congress and staff are pulled in every direction every single day, and impeachment is just one more thing drawing their attention elsewhere. Our industry’s advocacy issues mostly fall within the purview of energy, environment, and/or tax policy. We aren’t just competing with industries playing in that same policy space: we’re competing with everything. This is why it is so important to communicate regularly with your elected officials and not only when you need something from them.

Between Board meetings and the bi-annual HPBA Government Affairs Academy, HPBA will generally hold at least one “Hill Day” in Washington, D.C. per year. Throughout the year, HPBA staff is talking and meeting almost daily with congressional staff on behalf of all members. However, it’s your voices that mean the most to members of Congress. Whether it’s via email, phone call, or in-person in the district or in DC, they must hear from you. If you don’t voice your opinion on a matter or make yourself known, your member of Congress and their staff have no idea that you exist or what issues affect you and your business.

Over time, after years of building relationships with congressional offices, HPBA has become known as the go-to resource on woodstoves, fireplaces, and barbecues. You know your strategy is working when congressional offices reach out to you for advice without being prompted – exactly what is happening now after years of making our presence known on the Hill. Most importantly, we have become known for providing reliable information and connecting members of Congress with constituents who are directly impacted by policies being discussed in DC. In a meeting with Congresswoman Angie Craig (D-MN-02) during HPBA’s Hill Day this year, the Congresswoman remembered holding an event at an HPBA member’s manufacturing facility back in 2016 and was happy to meet with us to discuss current policy issues. 

Another example of industry’s influence can be seen in language that HPBA helped craft (back in 2016) that was enacted late last year. The language appropriated $5 million to the U.S. Department of Energy for a biomass research and development fund for developing the next generation of biomass heaters. Last year, $3 million of this fund was granted to two manufacturers, one of whom an HPBA member, to develop new technologies for use in wood heaters. Without the relationships developed in the U.S. Senate and work put in over the years, this would not have come to fruition.

After this year’s Hill Day, I wonder what little nuggets of gleaned information and which relationships we’ve begun will eventually grow into something larger. Government affairs and advocacy require patience and understanding of the long game. When I talk to retailers about how important it is to reach out to elected officials and their staff, how they WANT to hear from you, I am often met with frustration and a sense of helplessness. Trust me, the staff and elected officials often feel the same. I know it is difficult to take a few minutes away from your day, let alone several hours or a few days, to spend on advocacy, but since when was anything worth the effort easy to attain?

HPBA has tools to make reaching out to your elected officials easy. To start, send an email now to your Senators urging them to support legislation that would create a federal changeout program fund. Help us help you!

Please contact Rachel Feinstein if you have any questions or want to get more involved in advocacy.

 

  

     

Posted in: Blog
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