The busload of Pittsburgh business owners, led by executives from SMC Business Councils, herded one by one through the metal detectors and into the corridors of the Cannon House Office Building.
The diverse group, which included me, had finally arrived to experience first-hand the grandeur of our nations political process.
We were here, after all, to share with our local House and Senate leaders our concerns about the governments involvement in business. We wanted to make sure our voices were heard. To me, this was the center of change, and we were there to effect it.
We shuffled down the great halls, fighting swarms of school students, foreign tourists, Boy Scouting groups, slick-dressed lobbyists and even a stirred-up group of American war veterans as we made our way to our first legislative stop. Of course, Im the political skeptic, there to observe these business owners in action. I wanted to see for myself what bothers them and how passionate they are in their efforts to chew the ears of our elected officials. And I especially wanted to see how our representatives would respond.
But even with a packet of well-prepared issue statements in hand outlining concerns about estate taxes, health care, OSHA regulation, etc., I had no idea what they really wanted.
That is, until one older gentleman in the group, surrounded by others waiting outside one legislative office, proclaimed to anyone in the hall who would listen, All of these people around here want something from the government. All we want is to be left alone.
All we want is to be left alone This group didnt want more money. It wasnt looking for new programs to support development and growth. And it certainly didnt come looking for more laws or regulation. These folks many of them newcomers to the whole political process just wanted their legislators to know that they would rather be left alone.
Instead, they continue to face a business-crushing estate tax. Sole proprietors still arent able to deduct the entire amount of their own health care costs. If business owners sell their businesses today but finance the cost for the buyer over a period of years, recent legislation still requires the seller to pay taxes immediately on the full amount of the sale. And if OSHA gets its way, business owners will have to spend lots of money to make sure everything in their offices remain ergonomically correct.
Lets not even think about current liability laws, increasing the minimum wage and the proposed expansion of the Family Medical Leave Act to provide paid leave.
All we want is to be left alone. Such a simple request from a group of hard-working manufacturers, distributors, franchisors, franchisees and service firms. But Im not too sure many of our nations power brokers could even hear the simple request over the deafening screech of, shall we say, partisan politics.
This months issue is all about change. Calgon Carbon Corp., for instance, is teaching a culture of change to its 1,100 employees all the while it changes its leadership and product focus. The special Entrepreneurs Growth Guide addresses change in attitudes and hiring practices to keep up with changing times. Were seeing it everywhere, and most of it fertilizes the economic growth that weve been experiencing here in Pittsburgh and beyond.
But the one place where I dont see much change the place where the most dramatic change should originate is in the halls of Congress. I had the privilege, along with my designated group, to visit the offices of U.S. Rep. Mascara (D-Washington) and Rep. Klink (D-Allegheny). But as we discussed our concerns with aides from both camps (neither Mascara nor Klink could make it for our meetings), the aides would nod occasionally, take copious notes and even squeeze out an occasional We werent aware of that.
But the pervasive message from both Democratic offices was strikingly the same: I know what you mean, but theres really not much we can do about it right now. Were in the minority, you know, and our hands are tied. What can we do?
Perhaps not surprisingly, Mascaras voting record on behalf of business in our region is a weak 23 percent out of 100, according to the combined calculations of the national business organization National Small Business United and SMC, which hosted the bus trip. And Klinks? A whopping 8 percent.
Talk to the majority party about it, the aides concluded.
And we did. Sen. Rick Santorum, who did make it to our meeting, in the past year managed a 100 percent voting record, along with Rep. George Gekas (R-Harrisburg). Sen. Arlen Specter managed a 50 percent record.
In this age of such dramatic change in our economy and business philosophy, why cant Congress change with it all? Why do its members manage to make decisions that hamper business growth, even recognizing thereafter the error of their ways, but then simply shrug when you ask them why they cant change such stupidity?
Their answer: politics. And yet all we want to do is be left alone.
Indeed, some things never change. Special thanks to SMC Business Councils for giving me the opportunity to witness our political system at work, and to the busload of participants willing to humor me with their feelings and concerns.
Daniel Bates (firstname.lastname@example.org) is editor of SBN.