In mid-January, the government affairs staff of INDA, Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry, marked an important milestone, visiting its 200th Congressional office as part of INDA's ongoing "Capitol Hill Outreach" program. As with any significant achievement, passing this kind of milestone has prompted us to reflect on where we have been over the past few years and—perhaps more importantly—where we are going in years ahead. As such, this article is intended to update readers about some of the more pressing items on INDA's government affairs agenda and offer some expectations for what the future is expected to hold. We will start by taking a look at the status of INDA's Congressional Outreach program.
INDA's Congressional Outreach Initiative
Based on direction from INDA's board of directors, the nonwovens industry's legislative outreach program began in early 2003 as an effort to raise awareness about the nonwovens industry among lawmakers. The board specifically directed that early targets of this initiative be members of Congress who were eager to know more about a domestic industry that is performing well at a time when so many other manufacturing sectors, especially in the textiles arena, are struggling to stay afloat.
The program represented new territory for INDA, which had never really pursued a coordinated advocacy effort on Capitol Hill. Indeed, while INDA government affairs staff has historically taken a proactive approach in dealing with executive branch agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), we have tended to be more "reactive" when it came to dealing with the legislative branch, responding to issues when they arose, but avoiding any kind of direct "lobbying" campaign per se.
Part of this strategy relates to the fact that INDA's board of directors has repeatedly rejected the idea of forming a Political Action Committee—a means of making monetary contributions to political candidates—preferring instead to take an issue-based approach to influencing Members of Congress. INDA staff has used this model during the legislative outreach initiative, advancing it as a purely educational effort designed to inform members of Congress about our industry with the goal of opening the lines of communication so, if and when the time comes that our industry does need assistance on a policy matter, we will already have a pre-established relationship.
And, in the wake of recent corruption scandals that have tainted the reputation of Washington lobbyists and left many D.C advocacy groups scrambling about to design new strategies for approaching Capitol Hill lawmakers, our approach places INDA in the enviable position of not having to change a thing. Indeed, our Congressional outreach initiative will continue without any significant changes, and INDA members can look forward to our Fourth Annual Congressional reception being held May 10 and to having the opportunity to visit the offices of their elected representatives on May 11.
In the meantime, INDA Washington staff will continue to urge INDA members to contact us when they are in the Washington, D.C. area so that we can arrange meetings with their legislators, while we will continue to meet with as many members of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate as is humanly possible (we recently completed our 215th Congressional office visit).
And while all of this is going on, INDA government affairs staff continues its work in several other issue areas.
During the years, we have described how the Bush White House has advanced one of the most ambitious free trade in U.S. history, completing trade deals with numerous other countries and doggedly working to advance talks during the ongoing "Doha Round" of multilateral negotiations at the World Trade Organization. Even during its second term, this administration has shown no evidence of slowing down and has recently announced the completion of bilateral free trade agreements (FTAs) with Peru and Colombia and the intent to launch separate negotiations with Malaysia and South Korea later this year.
But, the clock on these initiatives is ticking because Presidential Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) is slated to expire in July 2007. As many readers know, TPA is a tool that Congress gives—at its discretion—to the White House such that the Administration can cut trade deals with other countries and present the results to Congress for an up or down vote without any amendments under expedited consideration. And, while it has previously been broadly assumed that Congress would renew TPA for the Bush Administration next spring, there is definite change in the atmosphere on Capitol Hill and things are not as certain as they had been in the past. This is especially true in the wake of the Dubai port deal. Things have gotten to the point, in fact, where the Bush Administration is working overtime to complete all pending trade talks by the end of 2006 so they can get Congressional approval before TPA expires next summer.
As always, INDA continues to be a vocal supporter of U.S. efforts to liberalize trade, and uses its International Trade Advisory Board (ITAB) as its conduit to develop and communicate our views to the Washington powers-that-be. Indeed, under the leadership of Gonzalo Castro (Cardinal Health) and recently elected co-Chair Mitch Sanner (Freudenberg Nonwovens), INDA's ITAB has an especially robust agenda.
Last year, the ITAB adopted a revised mission statement and leadership structure and, this year, has already drafted two additional position papers—one calling for Congress to renew Presidential TPA next year and another calling for the zero-for-zero duty eliminations on converted items made from nonwoven fabrics during the ongoing WTO talks. Looking ahead, INDA staff is working to arrange a meeting with Ambassador Robert Portman, the U.S. Trade Representative, and the Administration's newly appointed Special Textile Negotiator, Scott Quesenberry, in the coming months.
After years of work, CPSC has recently taken some significant steps towards completing national flammability standards for upholstered furniture and bedding. Most notably, on February 16, the CPSC's three Commissioners voted unanimously to issue a final mandatory standard for mattresses intended to reduce the number of fires ignited by open flame sources. The final rule, which will allow for the use of barrier fabrics as a compliance option, is slated to go into effect July 1, 2007.
In the meantime, on February 23, CPSC staff released their briefing package summarizing the regulatory options available for developing a national flammability standard for upholstered furniture. The staff's proposal described in the February briefing package—which also allows for the use of barrier fabrics to meet the standard—went largely unchanged from an earlier draft circulated in May, 2005, (see Capitol Comments, December 2005). Looking ahead, CPSC says its next step will be to forward the staff briefing package for consideration of whether it can be issued as a notice of proposed rulemaking, which is expected to happen in late spring.
Both of these matters have been on INDA's agenda for several years, and both of them have outstanding prospects for completion within the next 12-18 months.
In other developments, as this article was being prepared, members of INDA's Wiper Focused Interest Committee were planning to meet with senior EPA staff at the end of March to discuss the status of EPA's final rule on industrial wiping products. The primary purpose of the meeting is to learn when, exactly, EPA expects to issue a final rule. Similarly, members of INDA's Feminine Hygiene Task Force were slated to meet in mid-March to discuss several regulatory issues and future plans.
Therefore, INDA's government affairs staff is quite busy with numerous legislative, regulatory and international trade issues. But we always solicit input from our readers for issues that we may not be aware of. So as we turn the corner on our Capitol Hill outreach initiative by celebrating more than 200 Congressional meetings, we invite Capitol Comments readers to contact us if you are aware of a legislative or regulatory issue—at the Federal, State or even the local level—that needs to be addressed. After all, we rely on industry members to provide us with the "early warnings" needed to ensure that little issues are addressed before they become big problems. E-mails can be sent to Peter Mayberry, INDA director of government affairs, email@example.com, or to Jessica Franken, associate director, firstname.lastname@example.org.