The longest and most contentious President election in recent memory is finally over and, as this column went to press, Barack Obama was preparing to move into the White House. Meanwhile, on the other side of town, large numbers of newly elected Democrats were learning their room assignments for the 111th Congress and talking up some very aggressive agenda items, which they plan to pursue over the next two to four years.
Surveying all this activity, I am struck by how much change has actually taken place in our Federal government and how much more can be expected. Trust me, we are witnessing something that is unparalleled in Washington, DC, and there is no real way of knowing exactly how it will shake itself out.
In this article—quite possibly my last edition of Capitol Comments—I will summarize how the policies of the Obama/Biden administration will likely differ from any other we have seen in at least 50 years, and offer some predictions of how the new administration could impact the nonwovens industry. I will also offer some recommendations for the industry’s consideration going forward.
Invoking the concept of “change” as the basis for a political campaign is most certainly not new. Bill Clinton took the White House from the incumbent George H.W. Bush in 1992 largely on a platform of change. Similarly, the Republican Party captured a majority of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1994 for the first time in four decades based on a “Contract With America” that promised radical change in the way Congress operates.
But within 24 months of taking office, key members of the Clinton administration—and even the President himself—had begun to complain that change does not come easily in Washington, DC. Likewise, once the Republicans gained control of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1995, the best they could do to implement their Contract With American was rush through a bunch of legislation knowing full well that virtually all of it would get buried in the Senate. So no real change there either.
Based on the past, therefore, can we predict that the nascent Obama administration will be throwing its hands in the air sometime in the near future, exasperated by the glacial nature of our nation’s capital? Perhaps. But I wouldn’t bet on it.
The difference this time around is that the stakes are higher than they have been at any point in at least a half a century. Everyone knows that the global economy is in tatters, the U.S. is engaged in two different armed conflicts, and people are taking to the streets all over the world. The globe is warming, pensions are melting, the stock market is seesawing and energy costs are fluctuating wildly. None of these were significant factors back in the 1990s, politically anyway, and change is extremely hard to implement when things are going at least more or less okay. Current conditions, therefore, give President Obama all the justification he needs to propose—and implement—extraordinary change in Federal operations.
Moreover, the Obama administration will be very tightly connected to the new Congress (he was a U.S. Senator after all). So much so, in fact, that the White House and Congress will be able to play off each other in their efforts to implement change. Almost like a competition.
Things were similar for most of 2000-2006 when the Bush/Cheney administration was in the White House and Republican majorities controlled both the House and the Senate. Back then, however, the greatest focus was on security and, arguably, protection of the status quo. Instead of working to shake things up when they had the chance, the Bush administration and the Republican-controlled Congresses in power from 2000-2006 worked diligently to slow the gears of government in almost every area except homeland security and national defense.
Looking at the makeup of President Obama’s key staff and cabinet choices, one can see clear indications that this new administration will have a far more activist bent than the previous administration. But this is not necessarily worrisome for the nonwovens industry.
With Obama’s choice of Lisa Jackson to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, for instance, the new administration has selected a seasoned regulator from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection who, surprisingly, may have more support from the business community than she does with the environmental community.
In a press statement issued by the National Association of Manufacturers on December 16, for example, the NAM referred to Ms. Jackson as “highly qualified” and commended President-elect Obama for the professionalism of his entire environmental team.The Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, on the other hand, issued a statement on December 6 including a denunciation that “…the decisions, rulings, and actions produced under Ms. Jackson’s administration at the [New Jersey DEP] have been nothing short of appalling.”
As for nonwovens specifically, President-elect Obama has also announced his desire to transform the U.S. economy by stimulating “green” technologies and implementing a massive infrastructure repair and improvement program. Both of these efforts could offer tremendous opportunity for nonwovens.
Indeed, this is a time when the nonwovens industry should be screaming about the marvels that can be achieved through filtration, the benefits of geotextiles and the roles that nonwovens play in insulation, healthcare and personal hygiene.
With regard to Congress, I have been arguing for years that the nonwovens industry should significantly increase its outreach efforts to the numerous Congressional committees that have responsibility for manufacturing, healthcare, international trade and homeland security. Now more than ever, there are so many opportunities and potential challenges available through the legislative process that it borders on negligence for a global, multi-billion dollar industry to virtually ignore the United States Congress.
It is easy for me to make all of these recommendations, of course, especially considering I do not have to implement anything I advocate. It is with deep regret, in fact, that I acknowledge INDA’s decision to go in a “different direction” with regard to its government affairs program. Specifically, my firm was informed in late November that INDA has decided to rely on the law firm of Keller & Heckman to provide its legal and government affairs representation from now on.
I have enjoyed my service as INDA’s director of government affairs for the past 19 years, and I wish the industry great success and good fortune. I also thank each of you, the readers of Capitol Comments, for all of your support and commentary over the years. I hope our paths cross again soon.