Congress does two things well, according to Darrell Conner of the K&L Gates law firm, government affairs counselor for NATM. And those are “nothing, and overreact,” he quipped, speaking to attendees at this year’s annual convention where he provided an update on the association’s advocacy activities in Washington.
But despite the popular perception that nothing seems to get done on Capitol Hill, “the reality is that a lot happens—every single day.” Similarly, while President Trump famously campaigned on the promise to “drain the swamp” of the influence of “special interests,” everyone has interests that need to be protected.
“Government affects every part of our economy, whether we like it or not,” Conner said. “Our goal is to ensure that NATM is at the table, and NATM’s voice is heard. One of the most effective things we can do is bring you to the swamp, to get you to walk around the halls of Congress, to talk to members, to talk to the agencies, to educate them on what happens when they make a decision that affects your business.”
Indeed, members of Congress and federal agency officials typically “don’t know what they don’t know,” and while that may sound obvious, it’s a valid point: A busy congressman and his staff deal with hundreds of constituent requests and concerns daily.
“I describe my job as taking that sheet of paper from the bottom of the stack and putting it back on top,” he said, “reminding that members of Congress that our issues are important. They may assume, because they haven’t heard from anybody, that a piece of legislation doesn’t have an impact; but our goal is to educate them on what those decisions mean to the businesses that are involved in trailer manufacturing.”
Conner referred specifically to the successful effort to educate policy makers on towing tandem trailers for delivery from manufacturers, and to the negative impact on trailer makers of anti-dumping duties on Chinese tires, specifically ST trailer tires.
And keeping on top of things currently in Washington has been especially challenging.
“I can honestly say—and I’ve been in this business for 25 years—this has been the most interesting time in my life in Washington, DC,” Conner said. “For better or worse, every day I wake up, pick up the paper, and there’s something new.”
The tariff plan for steel and aluminum imports was just rolling out at the time of the NATM convention, and it was much discussed. Conner outlined the procedures behind the tariffs—and what members could do to protect the industry.
“There will be some right turns and some left turns along the way. I think now that the decision has been made the stakeholders will engage much more heavily—both through Congress, which can have an impact on it, as well directly with the administration, and through legal means,” Conner said. “There’s no question as to where President Trump stands on manufacturing. The question is how to balance what he wants to achieve in bringing it back here [to the U.S.] against what he’s going to do to hurt existing manufacturing. Part of this assessment is going to be where are the domestic manufacturers, are they going to want to do it, and if they are, what are the counter arguments?”
Rick Russell of Carry-On Trailers, chairman of NATM’s government affairs committee, readily offered his take.
“This is a penalty for us buying from overseas where we have no choice,” Russell said. “What’s going to happen to us is prices are going to go up and unfairly slow our economy, in my opinion, and affect our industry.”
Indeed, Russell and representatives from the National Marine Manufacturers Association and the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association subsequently met with met with staff from the Commerce Department. The group outlined the specific challenges facing manufacturers in their industries and the difficulties they have been facing. NATM also has reached out to key members of Congress to raise concerns about the tariffs.
NATM said the organization will be working with affected members to compile data on industry impacts, which will be an important part of the process. As with the ST tire tariff case, critical information concerning domestic availability, supply chain availability and related issues are key elements of final decisions in trade cases.