WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Convenience Distribution Association (CDA) held its first Day on the Hill event since it changed its identity from the American Wholesale Marketers Association (AWMA). The 2015 Day on the Hill took place May 13-14 in the nation’s capital.
Welcoming member distributors at a dinner Wednesday night, CDA Chairman Rob Sincavich emphasized the importance of the major changes taking place at the association, including changing the name to Convenience Distribution Association.
"I'm passionate about this association, and this new name reflects the changes we've made that are designed to bring us to a whole new level of representing and working for our distributor members," said Sincavich, before introducing the evening's guest speaker, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.). Elected by the largest margin of any Republican in her state's history, Capito is the first woman from West Virginia ever to serve in the U.S. Senate.
She told CDA members that she hopes Congress can come together and enact broad federal tax reform. Noting that CDA members back elimination of the federal estate tax, Capito said it’s unlikely the legislation, passed by the House of Representatives, could pass the Senate on its own.
"I voted for full repeal of the death tax in the House five or six times, but the hopes of full repeal lies in overall tax reform," she said, noting 60 votes would be required to bring the legislation to a Senate vote and Republicans have only 54 votes.
Capito also hopes to see passage of a long-term highway bill, citing the crumbling condition of many of the nation's highways and the importance of those highways to distributors. The problem, according to the senator, is how to pay for the road improvements.
Lastly, she reported that Republicans in the Senate are working through the appropriations process to dismantle components of the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare). She pointed out that the law has failed on its promise to keep people from turning to high-cost emergency rooms for their care and that many hospitals are struggling because so many people have policies with high-cost deductibles that they cannot afford.
"Have faith," Capito said. "We're getting things done in a bipartisan way. We're plugging away at some of these issues that are so important to you."
The following day, Susie Douglas Munson, chief operating officer of Conway, Ark.-based Douglas Cos Inc., kicked off the day’s agenda by sharing what both CDA and the new 114th Congress have in common: reinvention.
Douglas, a member of CDA's Executive Committee and former Government Affairs Committee chairwoman, noted the parallel between the many changes and improvements underway at CDA and the change in Congress now that both houses are controlled by Republicans.
"Your presence here this morning shows that you recognize just how important building relationships with your legislators is for your business and this industry as a whole," she said.
Munson introduced the morning's speaker, Rep. French Hill (R-Ark.), who was elected in November and is serving his first term in Congress. Hill is a member of the House Committee on Financial Services, and was previously Deputy Assistant to the Treasury for Corporate Finance in the administration of President George H.W. Bush.
Hill, who’s also founder, chairman and CEO of Delta Trust & Banking Corp., told CDA members that bipartisanship has begun to improve on Capitol Hill since Republicans took control of both chambers of Congress in January. He cited passage of Medicare reform legislation as an example, which ended 17 years of uncertainty for physicians regarding their payments for caring for older Americans. He also noted that for the first time in six years, Congress passed a budget bill, which if fully implemented, would balance the federal budget in 10 years without raising taxes.
Hill shared that he is currently working to achieve reform of entitlements, which he said consume two-thirds of the federal budget, a number that continues to grow. "I'm spending my time working on things like that," he explained.
MEETINGS WITH CONGRESS
CDA distributor members held more than 40 meetings during the 2015 Day on the Hill event with members of Congress and key staff, urging them to oppose increasing the federal minimum wage and proposed tobacco tax hikes, and to revoke the federal estate tax.
Charlie Casper of Mydad LLC, CDA's Government Affairs Committee chair, met with Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.) and explained the impact of those three key issues on distributors. Guthrie expressed support for CDA's position.
"I've known Brett Guthrie for many years," said Casper. "It is extremely important for distributors to cultivate relationships with their representatives, and the Day on the Hill event is a great way to help accomplish that.” He said Guthrie has toured one of Casper's warehouses to see just how convenience distributors operate.
Chris Smythers, president/CEO of Merchants Grocery Co. Inc. in Culpeper, Va., had similar success in a meeting with Rep. Dave Brett (R-Va.), who said he opposes both increasing the minimum wage and increasing tobacco taxes and that he voted to repeal the estate tax.
"I'm with you on all three," said Brett. "I'm three for three."
Also, in a meeting with Rep. Gary Palmer (R-Ala.), Butch DiChiara of City Wholesale Grocery Co. in Birmingham, Ala., and Anne Holloway, vice president of government affairs at CDA, discussed the three key issues, with Palmer expressing agreement with the association's concerns.
"We brought three very topical issues to Congress today and the majority of members we met with were supportive of our concerns and appreciated the fact that we made these face-to-face visits,” said DiChiara. “CDA is fortunate to have such able and articulate advocates for our industry — our members, and they did an outstanding job representing their companies and our industry."