The Equipment Dealers Association is vigorously representing the equipment industry on Capitol Hill. Last week, EDA’s Vice President of Government Relations, Natalie Higgins, and Iowa Nebraska’s Director of Government Affairs, Will Rogers, canvassed the Hill, attending nearly 20 legislative meetings on a host of vitally important issues. “Despite the immense distraction of impeachment proceedings, our meetings with legislators and key staffers were productive,” said Higgins. “We focused our efforts on three main issues: the United Statement Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA), Workforce Development and Rural Infrastructure.”
Bi-partisan support exists for USMCA and it is expected to pass both the House and Senate. “The issue is getting past a few disputes related to labor standards,” said Rogers. “During our meetings with key Democrats, even legislators that have not publicly announced support for USMCA advised that they would vote in favor of the agreement if brought to a vote,” he continued. “We need the Speaker (Pelosi) to call a vote. Moderate Democrats have expressed heightened concern that sending them home in December with impeachment and no trade deal could seal their fate.”
“While the Democrats don’t want to give President Trump a “win,” it is obvious that many democratic members are concerned about the severe political casualties that will arise from failure to act,” added Higgins. Rogers also noted that, “The bottom line is that dealers need this deal. We have been working with EDA since the USMCA was announced and we will continue to meet with legislators on both sides of the aisle to reinforce our position that partisan politics is not an excuse for fostering continued uncertainty in trade. Our dealers are partners with their customer – farmers. With trade facilitation payments likely to end in 2020, it is vitally important that USMCA gets across the finish line.”
Even if U.S. farmers get certainty with USMCA, tremendous infrastructure hurdles remain. The U.S. has aging infrastructure, especially in rural areas. Bridges and roads were not constructed with today’s heavy and large equipment in mind. Rogers says “We have to get Congress to realize that surface transportation bills are a starting point – they are not the end. Without a substantial investment in rural infrastructure, the U.S. is at serious risk of losing its competitive advantage. U.S. Farmers have to get their products to market. This means updating locks and dams, rural roads and bridges and many other projects that routinely get ignored.” Rural broadband is absolutely necessary to utilize modern agriculture equipment. The American Farm Bureau reports that more than ¼ of rural Americans lack access broadband and close to 30% of U.S. farms have no internet access. EDA will continue to support bi-partisan legislation to modernize rural infrastructure from bridges to broadband.
In addition to USMCA and Rural Infrastructure, Higgins and Rogers discussed the efforts of several legislators to modify Pell Grant requirements in a way that would allow grant money to pay for apprenticeships approved through the Department of Labor. “We are seeing legislators get increasingly practical about the skills gap,” remarked Higgins. “We have to facilitate education and training for the jobs we have today and the jobs we will have in tomorrow’s economy. We have to address the multi-faceted issues of educational cost and student loan debt.” Rogers described the meetings as fruitful, stating, “Legislators get it. Equipment Dealers are not the only industry struggling to recruit and retain talent despite low barriers to entry and competitive wages. We met with both Democrats and Republicans that want to help make sure federal education dollars are well spent – creating the workforce of tomorrow. Grant reform proposals are very promising in that they pave the way for flexibility to use Pell Grants. By expanding the federal grants program, equipment industry training programs would have access to additional funding options. It isn’t the solution to the labor shortage, but it is a tool in the toolbox.” The JOBS Act and the BUILD Act are pieces of legislation EDA is watching closely as a pathway to additional reform which will benefit equipment dealers directly and indirectly.