NAM Hits Capitol Hill With a Mixed Message on Trade

Posted February 7, 2007 at 6:49pm

When National Association of Manufacturers members from across the country arrive on Capitol Hill next week for an advocacy blitz, these amateur lobbyists will hardly speak with one voice.

The week’s events, billed as 72 hours to educate Members on manufacturers’ priorities and to celebrate legislative champions, includes a packed schedule of lobbying visits, a breakfast with Vice President Cheney and a luncheon with House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.).

But a subset of the NAM members, mostly smaller domestic manufacturers, has set up its own strategy sessions and lobbying visits to push a dissenting view on international trade in opposition to the association’s pro-trade position. For their part, NAM officials say they aren’t bothered by the mixed messages and expect a successful week focusing on issues where the members are unified.

“We’re all aware of the fact that NAM’s not representing us properly, but rather than leave, we are staying involved in the process so we have some influence and our voice is heard,” said John Hoskins Jr., a member of NAM through the Curtis Screw Co. in Buffalo, N.Y.

Hoskins, along with another NAM member association, the Precision Machine Products Association, intends to take part in several of the NAM events — including a reception with Members of Congress — but also plans separate meetings to push for legislation recently reintroduced by Reps. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) and Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) that would define currency manipulation by China as an illegal trade subsidy.

The split among manufacturers, which primarily pits the smaller companies against big multinational corporations such as Caterpillar Inc., Altria and Cargill, has simmered for months and grew especially heated after the NAM board last year decided not to endorse the China currency legislation, overruling the domestic manufacturers’ efforts to get NAM to make the issue a lobbying priority.

“There are huge divisions within NAM, and it’s getting worse by the month,” Hoskins said.

Another NAM member, David Frengel, who is director of government affairs for Penn United Technology and a leader of the NAM’s Domestic Manufacturers Group, said he will participate in NAM meetings with the Pennsylvania delegation, but plans to press his own issues when meeting Members.

Among those issues, Frengel said he favors either no renewal for or, at least, changes to the president’s fast-track authority, also called trade promotion authority, which limits Congress to yes-or-no votes on trade agreements without amendments. (NAM supports trade promotion authority with no restrictions.)

He also actively supports the China currency legislation.

“We are working together to try to get NAM to advocate for the vital interests of domestic manufacturers,” he said. “NAM does a great job of representing a lot of our vital interests, but when it comes to trade there are some very significant differences.” For example, he said, “We want a TPA that doesn’t promote a trade ‘free-for-all.’”

Tiffany Adams, NAM’s vice president and deputy director of corporate affairs, said the trade agenda will not take center stage during next week’s NAM-sponsored activities. Instead, she said, the group will emphasize such issues as making a tax credit for research and development permanent; stopping legislation that would make it easier for companies to unionize; and policies that could reduce energy costs.

“We are definitely aware that some folks have a more protectionist bent in our members,” Adams said. “But I don’t believe that our efforts are going to collide. There are differing opinions in some areas, but quite a few are registered for our events. We’re not going to kick anybody out.”

Pat Cleary, NAM’s senior vice president for communications, added that NAM is a “big tent” and the group has no problem that members with different viewpoints are making the trip to raise Congressional awareness on manufacturers’ issues.

Not all of the NAM members who will be in town next week plan to spend any time in that big tent, though.

Robert Dumont, president and CEO of the Michigan-based Tooling, Manufacturing & Technologies Association, said he will be on Capitol Hill lobbying. But even though he is a NAM member, he will not take part in the activities.

Dumont said his own group will “address the issues it sees as being important on the Hill, and I’m sure NAM will do the same thing. I don’t feel we have to go to NAM for entry to Members on the Hill. We can do that on our own.”

Alan Tonelson, a research fellow with the U.S. Business and Industry Council, which represents domestic manufacturers and is looking to pick off NAM members, said the rift shows “that NAM no longer speaks for American manufacturers on trade policy. Their monopoly has been broken. They’re still much larger than us, but we certainly think we have momentum on our side.”

Yet, Dumont said he just paid his NAM dues for another year and has no plans to quit the organization.

One lobbyist for the domestic manufacturers’ side said that by staying within NAM the smaller manufacturers “make it harder for NAM to take even more extreme positions against them.”