Why Do We Visit Capitol Hill?

The "West" delegation enters the offices of Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader of the House of Representatives. 
The "West" delegation enters the offices of Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader of the House of Representatives.

Everyone wears fine suits in Washington, D.C., even in 80% humidity and faulty air conditioning, and they stride everywhere with purpose, and they’re all so engaging and very smart.

Walking past the Supreme Court from the Cannon House building to the Hart, onto our next round of meetings alongside a hundred similar groups, I chafed at the notion that “our political system is broken.” I’d say our system works quite well, thank you.

Of course, this was my first time participating in the American Car Rental Association’s (ACRA) day of meetings on Capitol Hill with members of both the House and Senate and their staffers. Perhaps after a few more of these, I’d get just a bit jaded. But as an American — participating in the very process we learn about in school — it’s hard not to be in awe and a little bit humbled.

Our purpose was to, as ACRA’s lobbyist Greg Scott puts it, “Build relationships and make friends before you need them.” We were plain folks looking to convey how certain issues would affect our business lives. We learned. We made our points. It was a successful day.

And they listened. Certainly, it’s their job to listen, but they made a point to express the importance of this forum. “I give you my card for a reason,” said Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s tax adviser. “We don’t like to vote with our eyes closed.”

Our talking points on this day centered on peer-to-peer issues, car rental excise taxes, and like-kind exchanges (LKE).

Regarding peer-to-peer, I felt like we were treading new ground in terms of education on the model itself, which would set the stage for later policy decisions concerning an even playing field regarding regulation for all players.

When it came to discriminatory excise taxes, we explained the undue burden these taxes place on car rental customers and how Congress has the right to regulate excise taxes as interstate commerce. We looked to gain momentum and more co-sponsors on bipartisan legislation in both the House and Senate.

Discussions on LKE — at least the ones in our group — took on greater detail.

There is no eminent legislation affecting LKE; however, it is becoming part of the larger conversation on tax reform, especially for those looking to make the tax code simpler and lower the corporate tax rate to 25%.

With that in mind, a lot of tax provisions that benefit a limited number of taxpayers (or “loopholes” in the minds of some reformers) would be on the table. While we see LKE not as a loophole but as an engine for business reinvestment, it still has a dollar sign attached to it when trying to balance a budget. “I’ve been in rooms late at night when you’re trying to pay for something and everything is on the menu,” said Pelosi’s adviser.

Our delegation members made sure to state that the car rental industry buys 1.2 million cars a year, or 1 in every 10 sold. However, the real impact came twofold: First, Sharky Laguana, owner of van renter Bandago, explained how his small company (and thousands like him) wouldn’t benefit from a 25% corporate tax rate anyway.

Then K.C. Baack, a member of the Budget Atlanta franchise, chimed in. He said that after the company owners bought the franchise, they were able to grow the fleet by close to four times in just a few years. “We simply could not have done that without the benefit of LKE,” Baack said.

These statements, delivered in person by constituents running small businesses, magnify the power of statistics tenfold. This is the democratic process. This is why we do this. “We [lobbyists] are not the important ones in these situations,” Scott told us in between meetings. “You are.”  

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