Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) recently held its national legislative conference in Washington, D.C. Speakers at the conference included Senate Leader Trent Lott, R-MS; House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-TX; and Sen. Tim Hutchinson, R-AR, on day one and House Majority Leader Richard Armey, R-TX; Reps. Saxby Chambliss, R-GA; John Thune, R-SD; and Lindsey Graham, R-SC, as well as Ohio state Senator Richard Finan on day two.
Congressional leaders spoke of their close working relationship with ABC and ABC members across the nation. In addressing the audience of more than 500 ABC members, Lott said, “Over the past 30 years … I have enjoyed very much working with your members from the state of Mississippi. I enjoy working with this group because of your members and what you stand for. When you talk about freedom and democracy and free markets and free opportunity for the American people to get a good job without the government regulating everything you do, that’s the kind of people I want to be with and support in their legislative agenda — and we’re going to do that.”
Lawmakers and ABC officials addressing the conference sounded a common theme — a free enterprise majority in both chambers of Congress is essential to ensuring that legislation that benefits merit construction and the nation’s economic prosperity is able to advance and become law. The ABC leadership joined congressional leaders in decrying the current climate in the U.S. Senate in which little is being accomplished and urged ABC members to help elect a pro-free enterprise Congress in November.
“Elections are coming November 5,” ABC National Chairman Ken Adams, president of Pace Electric, New Castle, DE, said. “And President Bush is doing his part. But his administration faces a roadblock in Washington called the U.S. Senate. ABC’s number one goal this year is to elect a Senate that believes in free enterprise and open competition.
“The strength of ABC is free enterprise itself. And it will benefit the entire industry if we stand steadfast on our principals, policies and practices.”
Lott criticized Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle’s, D-SD, management of the Senate. Pointing out that the Senate has yet to pass a budget resolution for fiscal 2003, Lott said, “It’s been a very slow year under Daschle. We have some 50 bills that have come over from the House — very good bills, including welfare reform, faith-based initiatives and class action lawsuit reform — and they’re almost always passing in a bipartisan way in the House. But they’re fading in the Senate. They’re disappearing.”
DeLay outlined a House GOP initiative called STOMP — the Strategic Taskforce to Organize and Mobilize People — designed to help the GOP maintain and build on its majority in the November elections. He said it will be the House GOP’s top priority to build on its five-vote majority in November. “Without a Republican House, the president’s agenda will have no chance of being signed into law,” he said. “STOMP is the program to really regain that edge. The key to STOMP is organizing volunteers all around the country to focus on critical areas that will decide the upcoming elections.”
ABC Chairman Adams presented the association’s Free Enterprise Legislator of the Year award to DeLay. ABC presents this award to an elected official whose service to the public parallels support for the free market system and the idea of full and open competition.
Hutchinson, a staunch ABC ally and one of the top five Senate candidates ABC is supporting, said that whoever is setting the floor agenda will dictate which approach is taken on such issues as ergonomics, President Bush’s union-only project labor agreement (PLA) executive order and association health plan legislation. Referring to recent legislation introduced by Sen. John Breaux, D-LA, that would call for a new ergonomics regulation, Hutchinson said, “We all want better working conditions, but the question is, do we do it in a sensible, responsible way … or with the heavy-handed Clinton approach that we saw in the last administration?”
In regard to the PLA executive order, Hutchinson asked, “Are we going to have a discriminatory federal government policy or open competition?” He added that legislation allowing for the creation of association health plans would not “see the light of day with Daschle leading the Senate.”
Hutchinson said he has been targeted for defeat by organized labor and will face heavy union artillery in the upcoming elections. Speaking a day later, Graham said he, too, will face heavy opposition in his bid for the Senate seat of retiring Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-SC. “My opponent has raised more money as a Senate challenger than any other Democrat in the country,” he said.
Chambliss and Thune, both running for Senate seats this year, outlined their strategies for the upcoming elections. “Our game plan is pretty simple,” Chambliss said. “We have a senator [Max Cleland, D-GA] who was sent to the U.S. Senate by Georgians in 1996 thinking he was another conservative Democrat. He has been anything but … . We’re going to do a very professional job of pointing that out.” He added that his campaign also will highlight “the very conservative voting record that I have accumulated during my eight years in the House.”
Thune was optimistic about his prospects for winning a Senate seat in South Dakota. He said his campaign will focus on grassroots organizing and on raising the funds necessary to counter the messages of liberal special interest groups seeking his defeat. “If we can do those two things, we are going to win the election,” he said.
ABC presented its first Lifetime Achievement award to Armey, who is retiring this year. Armey reminisced about his long association with ABC. “Every [legislative] fight I’ve been in these past 18 years, I’ve been in [the trenches] with ABC. I don’t think we’ve missed a beat.”
Construction Education Foundation Chairman Mark Small, of Cleveland Construction, Mentor, OH, presented ABC’s State Legislator of the Year award to Ohio State Senate President Finan. During Finan’s tenure as president, the Ohio legislature passed legislation to exempt schools from state prevailing wage requirements and legislation prohibiting union-only PLAs on state funded projects.
Finan said the Ohio legislature established a commission to evaluate the cost and quality of school construction following the repeal of prevailing wage requirements. The commission found that “at a minimum,” the school districts saved 5 to 10 percent as a result of the repeal of the prevailing wage requirements. Consequently, more funds could be fueled to the school systems themselves. “I think that’s huge for the schoolchildren of Ohio,” he said.
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