Chamber-Made Opposition

Business Groups Cover the Waterfront to Fight Reform Effort

Posted September 3, 2009 at 4:07pm

WACONIA, Minn. — As tempers flared at health care town halls this summer, national business trade groups intensified their lobbying efforts, pushing for one-on-one contact with lawmakers over the August recess.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in particular, upped its presence on the ground.

“Anytime there is a recess with big issues pending, we usually provide a lot of background information to local affiliates and local and state chambers,— said the chamber’s Doug Loon.

The chamber also worked to involve its members in conference calls, a letter-writing campaign

and meetings with Members of Congress.

The chamber held two conference calls during August with 665 participants, added Loon, who works out of the group’s Midwest regional office.

At the end of July, the chamber sent a letter on health care reform to Capitol Hill with 1,519 signatures, Loon said.

The chamber expected to resend the same letter at the end of August with more than 2,300 signatures. The chamber’s seven regional offices also helped gin up grass-roots support at more than 60 events in August.

In Minnesota, the Waconia Chamber of Commerce held an event with Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) on Aug. 27.

The newly installed ranking member on the House Education and Labor Committee met with about 50 local business people, talking mostly about health care reform. Kline, who has been a vocal opponent of the Democratic health care reform proposal from the start, said that it was time to “push the reset button— on reform.

Meetings with Members of Congress are important, Loon said, because business owners, as health care system users, have a lot of anxiety about the end result of reform.

“Everybody’s an expert in health care because it affects everybody,— Loon said.

In addition to hosting events, the chamber launched a $7.5 million ad campaign on July 21. The ads, which are running in 21 states, criticize the public insurance option.

The National Federation of Independent Business, which started its Solutions Start Here campaign more than a year ago to advocate for what it considers meaningful health care reform, has also publicly criticized the House bill.

“Health care is small businesses’ biggest issue,— NFIB spokeswoman Stephanie Cathcart said. “This is real to everybody.—

In addition to encouraging members to attend town halls this summer, NFIB regional offices helped organize more than 200 events.

In Wisconsin, Bill Smith, NFIB’s state regional director, helped organized a sit-down meeting in Eau Claire with Rep. Ron Kind (D).

Getting three small-business owners face time with Kind to talk about health care can have a bigger impact than having them write letters or attend town hall meetings, Smith said. The NFIB wants members to engage in a “key contact— with lawmakers in order to build a relationship with them, added Smith.

Kind, who voted against the Democrats’ health care reform bill as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, defended the revamped package to the small-business owners.

The intimate meeting allowed the business owners to talk directly about their concerns over the shape health care reform is taking, Smith said.

“Distrust, concern, fear, I think these are the words that sum up where the small-business community is,— Smith said.

The National Association of Manufacturers also paid more attention to an August recess strategy this year because of the increasing concern its members have about costs and job losses, according to Tiffany Adams, NAM’s vice president of public affairs.

In addition to letting its members know about the dates and locations of various town halls, NAM also asked them to write their lawmakers and to share that information with their employees and other local citizens.

NAM also continued its small roundtables about health care concerns specific to the manufacturing industry with lawmakers such as Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.).

At the grass-tops level, NAM has also been hosting “brown bag— lunches with employees prior to the August recess.

“We want to make sure everyone is up to speed from the top of the company to the front-line worker,— Adams said.