Beyond Black Friday: Retailers Taking Stock of Hill Agenda

Posted November 27, 2009 at 5:00am

It’s not all early-bird specials and price slashing for the retail industry this holiday season.While retailers are crossing their fingers that the National Retail Federation’s survey predicting a surge in shoppers for Black Friday holds true, the NRF and other industry groups are fervently working to beat back the Senate health care bill they believe will harm their members.“In the context of the economy, we see the current health care legislation as anti-stimulus legislation,— said Craig Sherman, a lobbyist at the NRF. “The employer mandate provisions include financial penalties that would cost the retail industry billions of dollars at a time when retailers would not be able to raise prices to cover the costs.—Sherman noted that some retail workers who don’t have health care would not only remain uninsured, but also would probably be out of a job if the legislation goes forward in its current state.The NRF has been pushing Congress to focus on making health care more accessible by making insurance more affordable instead of mandating spending.The Retail Industry Leaders Association has also been pushing back against the Senate health care bill.In particular, RILA is concerned with the 30-day automatic enrollment period, according to RILA lobbyist John Emling.“That is just not workable for our industry,— Emling said, noting the large number of part-time and seasonal workers retailers employ.The industry is also hoping that Black Friday will signal a turnaround in consumer spending.An NRF survey, conducted by BIGresearch, found that up to 134 million people will shop Friday, Saturday or Sunday, up from the 128 million people who planned to head for the mall for last year’s post-Thanksgiving weekend.Discount and department stores are expected to be the biggest attractions for shoppers this weekend, expected to lure 66.3 percent and 62.4 percent, respectively, of those surveyed.The survey also found that 57 million people said they would definitely shop, while another 77 million are waiting to see what deals retailers are planning before hitting the stores.The survey comes as the industry is hoping for a spike in sales that didn’t materialize earlier this year after the stimulus package. Retailers supported stimulus measures that were aimed at increasing consumer spending, including tax rebate checks.“It didn’t provide the big increases that we had hoped for,— Sherman said.The NRF also proposed a series of national sales tax holidays, including one during the holiday season, to help get consumers shopping. So far, that measure has not been enacted.Retailers were successful in getting a tax provision inserted in this year’s Worker, Homeownership, and Business Assistance Act that will allow them to write off losses for a longer period of time.The net-operating-loss measure was included in the House and Senate stimulus packages earlier this year but was removed in conference. The legislation extends to five years the period that companies can use to offset revenue losses. Companies can usually only carry back tax losses for two years.On the plus side, Sherman said that retailers have been able to more easily get credit from banks. Although the tax refund checks haven’t been cut yet, banks are lending retailers money with the knowledge that the government will do so soon.But the industry is largely on the defensive in jobs and labor legislation.As Congress is considering new jobs legislation, retailers say they are mindful of the impact that could have on their industry.“It’s kind of ‘do no harm’ first and foremost,— Emling said of his lobbying message on jobs bills.