Washington Forum '09 Recap—Part I: From Card Check to Climate Change, Policy Under the Microscope

Surface finishing industry members convened in Washington, D.C., April 28–30 for the 2009 Washington Forum, the annual event sponsored by the National Association for Surface Finishing (NASF) in conjunction with The Policy Group, NASF's government relations arm. Topics of discussion spanned the spectrum from the impact of existing and pending regulations on manufacturing and workplace safety, to the outlook on the overall economy under the new administration.

Following are some highlights from the event:

Keynote Address: Congress and the White House Agenda

Michael Barone, Fox News Channel contributor, senior writer for U.S. News & World Report, and a Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, kicked off the program with his presentation, “Congress and the White House Agenda.” In his speech, Barone expressed his criticism of the new administration's policies in general and President Obama's decision-making in particular. Specifically, Barone questioned the efficacy of the administration's policies as they relate to taxing and spending, and provided some insights on how the administration might lean on issues concerning worker-employee relations.
In particular, Barone cited the newly introduced “card check bill,” which would essentially make it easier for union organizers to not only recruit members but—if enacted—would also force employers into binding arbitration in the case of unresolved disputes. Like many card check opponents, Barone believes employers, particularly small business, would be put at a disadvantage if the measure were to pass. “Many people in the union movement thought they had this sewn up,” Barone said. “ But they're finding that it's a hard sell to abolish secret ballots in the U.S.”
Another force working against the administration, Barone noted, is the “bailout fatigue” that Americans are suffering as billions of taxpayer dollars are allocated toward propping up ailing banks and financial institutions, as well as major corporations. Barone likened it to socialist policies. “What we're seeing in Washington now is similar to how the British Parliament works,” Barone said. “Obama wants to make America more like Europe, which has seen slower economic growth and less innovation.”
Barone pointed to other areas of concern. “President Obama has delegated much of the law-making to Congress, showing his inexperience as a legislator,” he said. Barone also pointed to a gap between the overall rating of the President as it relates to his policies. “There is a tension between the 21st century aura and appeal of Obama compared to his 20th century welfare state proposals. There is a big difference between the 'under 30s' and the 'over 30s'—young voters just don't see history in this perspective.”


Climate Change & Energy Policy:
Carbon Control & the Outlook for Manufacturing

Past Washington Forum speaker Manik Roy, vice president, Federal Government Outreach, Pew Center on Global Climate Change, returned to provide attendees with an update on global manufacturing trends in the context of U.S. Energy policy. At the heart of his presentation was the subject of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and how not only the Obama administration, but the world at large, will likely deal with the issue.

“On this matter the Obama administration has put its money where its mouth is,” Roy said, citing the President's ambitious emissions reductions, focus on green initiatives, and various public policy objectives. By Roy's count, “24 states are already in the process of developing 'cap and trade' GHG legislations.” More importantly, mechanisms are already in place to facilitate policy enactment. “Most U.S. Federal environmental laws are based on state or local precedents,” Roy added.
But one of the main challenges for the U.S., Roy notes, is the fact that the impact of GHGs goes beyond American shores. True, countries such as India and China have huge coal reserves and, thus, are facing pressures to curtail their own emissions. The U.S. can only exert so much pressure as America has not yet ratified the Kyoto Protocol. “When the U.S. projects arrogance, it makes it difficult for other countries to work with us due to their own politics,” Roy explained.
Fortunately, Roy said, China is actively focused on the emissions issue (the country also has its own “energy security” issue, he notes). With respect to India, which is democratic, “we're just not hearing the same kind of enthusiasm.”
Meanwhile, the U.S., which represents 25% of the total global emissions, has its own work cut out. “This is not an elective exercise,” Roy said. “It's something that we have to do.”
For more on this story, look out for the June issue of Metal Finishing.

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