NAW Execs Say Obama Administration Will Face Familiar Challenges

Jan. 30, 2009
As the Obama Administration gets settled in at The White House, a few blocks away at the annual conference of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors

As the Obama Administration gets settled in at The White House, a few blocks away at the annual conference of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors (NAW), held Jan. 27-29 in Washington, D.C., several veterans of the legislative wars on Capitol Hill say it's a little too early to tell how well the new administration will work with NAW and other pro-business trade groups.

Between them, Dirk Van Dongen, NAW president, Jade West, senior vice-president, government relations, and Jim Anderson, vice-president government relations, have close to 100 years of experience as lobbyists, and they have seen many U.S. presidents come and go. While they agreed Obama has made some early overtures toward business supporters in both political parties, Van Dongen, West and Anderson said the real work has yet to begin in the crafting and passage of legislation. During a press briefing at the NAW conference, they said they have seen some similarities between the early days of the Obama Administration and the same time period during other administrations.

Van Dongen says President Obama is still in the honeymoon stage of his relationship with the American public and it that it may last until people start getting frustrated that economic conditions aren't improving as fast as they would like. At that point, he said, Obama may “inherit” the economic problems, much like President Reagan inherited the economic problems that took root in the Carter Administration. “The last time a President came into office this popular was Reagan,” he said. “But watch Obama and see how long it takes before he owns the (economic) problems.”

He also said that while many of the senior-level appointees in the new administration had experience in the Clinton administration, many of the other 2,000-plus political appointees that typically come in with a new administration “are still getting their sea legs.” “They have to populate all of those positions,” he said. “There is a lot of (singing) ‘Kumbaya’ right now and (people) asking, ‘Why can't we play nice?’”

Van Dongen said Obama is probably already learning that he has to tone down some of his campaign rhetoric to get down to the real business of getting his programs passed into law on Capitol Hill.

West, Anderson and Van Dongen were not happy with the stimulus package passed by the House of Representatives on Jan. 28, and said it was a “very flawed piece of legislation.” They were also concerned that Obama will eventually push for passage of Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), more commonly called the “card check law,” which is generally considered to be pro-labor legislation that would simplify union-organizing activities. According to a briefing at, under a card check system, a union conducting an organizing drive would be immediately and automatically recognized as the certified collective bargaining agent if it's able to persuade 50 percent plus one of the employees in a workplace to sign authorization cards. However, West said because Obama quietly appointed his new Secretary of Labor (Hilda Solis, a U.S. Congresswoman from California) well after his other cabinet appointees, it may have been a sign that he is not going to aggressively pursue the pro-labor agenda favored by union donors to his presidential campaign.

Van Dongen, West and Anderson are bracing themselves for a flurry of legislative proposals over the next four years that will not be popular with pro-business groups. Van Dongen likened the likely legislation to “cuts by a thousand rusty razors.” “This stuff is going to come at us like shotgun pellets,” he said.

He urged all distributors to contact their local U.S. Congressmen and Senators whenever they have concerns about legislation under consideration in Washington. “We cannot stop these things on our own.”