Washington update: Elections and other matters

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Washington update: Elections and other matters

By Ken Clark - 10/07/2020
McKenney says the big race could go either way.

Familiar topics such as the interpretation of a crane and derrick rule, and new events such as the passing of Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg mixed into a wide-ranging presentation on legislation and lumberyard operations during the ProDealer Industry Summit.

And the question on everyone’s mind – though not necessarily on the virtual event’s chat feature – “who will win the 2020 presidential election,” -- was also addressed by Kevin McKenney, director of government affairs for the National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association.

He said he didn’t know who will win – but he knows this: polls that show Democratic nominee Joe Biden in the lead can be misleading.

“We saw in 2016 that all the polls and insiders were totally wrong about Trump winning,” said McKenney. “It’s definitely a toss up, even though Biden is ahead in the polls. A lot could still happen.”

At the intersection of lumber and lobbying, McKenney listed some of the 2020 victories for the D.C.-based association. Among them was the decision by the federal government to include lumber dealers on its list of “essential businesses” to remain open – as recommended by the Homeland Security Department -- during the pandemic.

“We were very fortunate that we were successful in that effort,” said McKenney.

The pandemic-induced Paycheck Protection Program also counts as a lobbying victory, he said. When original proposals included “ambiguous and problematic” guidance related to the review of loans, NLBMDA lobbying helped push for clarity. In the end, any PPP loan of less than $2 million was deemed to be in good faith, and in no jeopardy of regulatory scrutiny at a later date, he said.

The pandemic has also brought the NLBMDA to take a hard look at employer liability in the face of a virus that can strike from anywhere – “that’s a big focus area for us,” he said.

The NLBMDA reports movement on a controversial crane ruling.

There has been positive movement, meanwhile, in the area of crane and derrick rules.

The controversy over crane and derricks in construction standards started in 2010. That's when a rule, with the support of the NLBMDA, exempted material delivery from stringent regulations. However, a 2016 interpretation of that same rule brought confusion to the standard and seemed to conflict with the original rule – a major concern for the NLBMDA.

According to McKenney, there has been recent and positive movement toward a resolution after the NLBMDA and individual dealers reached out to Congress to pressure OSHA into a sense of urgency on this issue. The result: OSHA has finally acknowledged that an issue exists and has said that a response to the NLBMDA’s concern is forthcoming. “I think lobbying has been very effective,” McKenney said. “I’m hopeful we’ll have a resolution to this shortly.”

Among other regulatory matters of importance to the NLBMDA is the lack o a softwood lumber agreement from Canada. “The NLBMDA would like to see both the United States and Canada return to the table and get a new agreement,” McKenney said. “Our letter asks the Trump Administration to return to that negotiating table on a new softwood lumber agreement. It’s something the NLBMDA is watching, and we do understand all the complexity and nuances of this.”

The election will have a big effect on the direction and focus of the NLBMDA's efforts in 2021. The presidential contest will probably be decided by the outcome of the following swing states: Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida. 

It’s likely, McKenney added, that the House of Representatives will remain in control of the Democratic party. And in the Senate, Alabama seems likely to flip to Republican, but Republicans face a lot of tight races to hold their seats.

“For 2021, for our regulatory agenda it’s really going to come down a lot to the election," McKenney said. 

McKenney's session was part of a busy first day at the ProDealer Industry Summit. The virtual event runs through Friday.