Operators lobbying in DC with NRA

Nearly 500 restaurateurs from across the nation have convened in Washington to lobby their lawmakers on critical legislative issues impacting the foodservice industry.

Attendees at the National Restaurant Association’s 24th annual Public Affairs Conference are expected to visit lawmakers on Capitol Hill on Thursday, carrying a pro-business message that addresses such initiatives as job creation, business meal deductibility and food safety.

Sally Smith, chief executive of Minneapolis-based Buffalo Wild Wings and vice chairman of the NRA, encouraged operators at the conference to visit their lawmakers and share with them the realities of the restaurant business today.

"We need officials to understand what we are up against," she said in an address to conference attendees. "This is an opportunity to make our voices heard. We need to bring our industry's perspective to Washington."

Dawn Sweeney, president and chief executive of the NRA, told operators that "engaging in the legislative process is more challenging than ever," and underscored the importance of strengthening existing relationships with members of Congress.

She urged operators to tell lawmakers that "excessive regulations can kill jobs and stunt growth."

Conference attendee Patrick Lenow, executive director of corporate communications for Glendale, Calif.-based DineEquity Inc., pointed out the importance of having operators meet with lawmakers to present a unified industry position on key issues.

“We encourage our franchisees to do this,” said Lenow, whose company hosted its own lobby day in Washington last month, mobilizing 200 IHOP and Applebee’s franchisees on Capitol Hill. “These are folks who live and work in [a congressman’s] district and touch thousands of their constituents every week. They’re small business people whose business livelihood is dependent upon the legislation coming out of Washington.”

And, given the continuing weakness in the economy, many issues have become even more critical to small businesses. The following issues have been designated by the NRA as being key to the industry’s health:

  • Job creation. Attendees will ask lawmakers to support measures that contribute to job creation and increase access to capital, enabling restaurateurs to grow and expand.
  • Business meal deductibility. Lawmakers will be urged to co-sponsor twin bills that would increase the current deduction from 50 percent to 80 percent. Recently, the NRA praised Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nevada, for being a lead cosponsor in H.R. 3333, a bill that would raise the meal tax deduction.
  • Food safety. There are bills in both chambers addressing food safety, but the NRA favors Senate bill S.510. According to the association, provisions in the House bill dealing with traceability, record keeping and requiring reports through the Reportable Food Registry could carry administrative and compliance costs that may end up penalizing operators and not enhancing food safety.
  • Building STAR. Attendees are requested to ask their congressmen to co-sponsor STAR, a piece of legislation that includes rebates and tax incentives allowing operators to conduct energy-efficient retrofits and upgrade the energy performance of commercial buildings.
  • Employee Free Choice Act, or EFCA. Lawmakers will be urged to oppose EFCA and any compromise measure that could weaken an employee’s right to a private ballot or might include binding arbitration.
  • Credit Card Interchange Fees. Congressmen will be asked to put an end to anti-competitive credit card practices by supporting two measures in the House, HR 2382 and HR 2695, and one in the Senate, S.1212. The NRA also requests that lawmakers support action to treat swipe fees for debit cards the same way as paper checks in the financial reform bill.
  • Immigration. The NRA supports a comprehensive immigration plan, and lawmakers will be asked to consider the issue as a legislative priority.
  • Paid sick leave. Attendees are requested to urge their congressmen to oppose paid sick leave mandates.
  • Restaurant depreciation. The NRA favors legislation that would extend 15-year depreciation schedules for a longer period of time — preferably permanently.

Lenow urged industry members to communicate with their elected officials whenever possible. “I think congressmen really want to hear from their constituents about the issues,” he said.

He said IHOP and Applebee’s franchisees focused on healthcare reform and EFCA during DineEquity’s lobby day. “They are not job enablers, they’re job killers,” he said.

While disappointed in the health care outcome, he said DineEquity currently is “sorting through the law...what does it really mean?”

Nevertheless, he said that the DineEquity lobby day proved to be a positive experience for the company’s franchisees. “They felt they had been listened to and that their opinions were heard,” he said. “I know many plan to follow up with e-mails and letters to their congressmen.”

Contact Paul Frumkin at [email protected]