A new president may take office Jan. 20, but the Home Furnishings Association must continue to project a consistent voice for important industry issues.
That was one message delivered by the association’s CEO, Mark Schumacher, and lobbyist Chris Andresen in an HFA Live webinar as votes were still being counted across the country Nov. 5. Democratic former Vice President Joe Biden was leading Republican President Donald Trump and now appears to have secured enough electoral votes to win.
No matter who is in power, however, the HFA and its Government Relations Action Team must keep up advocacy outreach to the administration and Congress, Schumacher and Andresen said.
With a probable Biden administration, a smaller Democratic majority in the House of Representatives and possible continued Republican control of the Senate (if Republicans win at least one of the two runoff elections in Georgia), Washington will see more divided government. That will restrain some Biden initiatives and force compromise, Andresen said. During the campaign, Biden vowed to raise the corporate income-tax rate from 21 percent to 28 percent. Businesses might be pleased if that’s now unlikely. On the other hand, plans to improve the nation’s infrastructure might remain stalled – which won’t help facilitate the movement of goods across the country.
Senate could restrain regulatory agenda
Biden would like to implement a more aggressive regulatory agenda, Andresen said, but executives to carry that out must be confirmed by the Senate. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could hinder that process. On the other hand, Biden and McConnell nurtured a good relationship when Biden served in the Senate, Andresen noted. So perhaps they could agree if Biden nominates more moderate figures.
One agency that will present an early test is the Consumer Products Safety Commission. One of its five seats is vacant, and two more could open next year. CPSC is developing a mandatory standard for furniture stability to address the problem of bedroom chests and dressers sometimes tipping over, causing injuries to children.
The Senate also could stop or modify House legislation that would place greater regulatory burdens on industry.
An important immediate concern is relief for businesses, state and local governments, and individual Americans contending with the effects of the pandemic, which is surging again across the country. Congress hasn’t agreed on a significant aid package since spring. HFA has continued to press for additional help through the Paycheck Protection Program, including automatic forgiveness of smaller loans, and for liability protection from COVID-related claims.
While House Democrats and Senate Republicans differ widely in their willingness to provide a large, new relief package, Andresen sees a chance for some agreement in a lame-duck session. PPP renewal enjoys bipartisan support. Whether an outgoing President Trump would sign any legislation isn’t certain, however. So, it could be early 2021 before more money flows from Washington in the form of small business loans, extended unemployment benefits and state and local government assistance.
Leaders need to hear HFA members’ stories
Schumacher and Andresen pointed to HFA success earlier this year in pressing for industry priorities when members of the association have told their stories to lawmakers. Elected officials need and want to hear how policies affect businesses and what they can do to help. Support for small businesses in Washington is bipartisan, Andresen said. He urged HFA members to share their experiences with the association’s government team, which can relay them to congressional offices.
Trade is an issue where members of Congress of both parties have generally disliked the Trump administration approach of using tariffs to address conflicts, Andresen said. But, while Biden leans toward less confrontational tactics, he might not quickly remove import taxes – including those on home furnishings products. Relations with China are adversarial, and easing them would not be politically palatable. But imposing new tariffs – for example, in response to an investigation of possible use of illegally harvested timber in furniture exported by Vietnam – might be less likely, Andresen said.
With COVID-19 infections hitting record highs nationally, Schumacher said the HFA will renew its argument that furniture stores are essential and safe. Schumacher and Andresen have spoken with representatives of the National Governors Association to convey that message, but communication at the local level is needed also. Furniture retailers should seek opportunities to develop positive relationships with state and local leaders who make key decisions. They should let them know that demand has grown for home furnishings products that Americans need to live more comfortably and work more productively when they’re spending more time in their homes. HFA members also should stress that business adjustments are making sure that furniture stores are safe for customers and employees. Those include seeing customers by appointment, limiting the number of people in stores, wearing face coverings and increasing e-commerce. HFA has joined with industry partners to create the Alliance4Safety, outlining best practices.
HFA’s advocacy work is ‘critically important’
Schumacher appealed to HFA members to join the association’s advocacy work, calling it “critically important.”
“This is not just, ‘OK, the election’s done, we can take our foot off the gas.’ Not the case,” he said. “We’re going to be a steady drumbeat to push forward the issues important to this industry, so that we can help you grow your business.”
Retailers can begin to get involved by following HFA’s advocacy efforts at go.myhfa.org/advocacy.
Find more HFA on-demand webinars here.
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