August, 2009
Washington Watch
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors



ASHI Working for You in Washington, D.C.

RANDALL PENCE

The nation’s Capitol is moving policy at a pace unparalleled since the early days of the Franklin Roosevelt administration. Team Obama and the 111th Congress are attacking several major issues at once, but none is more important than the economy, with home sales issues at the heart of the activity.

ASHI is fully engaged in this competitive environment, working behind the scenes to influence federal policy that will impact home inspectors. ASHI is concentrating its strongest efforts on niche issues on which it can be most effective. It is focusing its resources in ways designed to leverage targeted relationships to achieve maximum impact.

As reported earlier, last March ASHI President Bill Richardson joined Randall Pence of Capitol Hill Advocates, ASHI’s lobbyist in Washington, D.C., for a fast-paced series of lobbying meetings to put the members’ stamp on ASHI’s efforts inside the Beltway. The important immediate issue is the Consumer Protection Home Inspection Counseling Act of 2009, a bill drafted by ASHI and offered to Capitol Hill. The core purpose of the bill is to require HUD to train all its housing counselors to counsel homebuyers with a central message — get a home inspection.  

ASHI invites you to peer over their shoulders as Richardson and Pence move through the halls of Congress and federal agencies. ASHI’s mission is to educate policy-makers on smart ways to craft legislation affecting ASHI members, promote the home inspection profession and lobby to protect the interests of home inspectors.

U.S. Senate, Capitol Hill, 10:00 a.m., March 25, 2009

Representing ASHI, Richardson and Pence walk through the halls of the Hart Senate Office Building to the office of New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingaman to meet with Senior Legislative Assistant Annie Chavez.

(Bill affirms for the first of many times this day that, no, he is NOT the Bill Richardson who is the current governor of New Mexico and former secretary of state. No, that would be THE OTHER Bill Richardson.)  
Sen. Bingaman is a senior Democrat in the Senate, currently serving his fifth term. While he is not a senator who spends much time on the Sunday news shows, he is a workhorse behind the scenes.

Pence and Richardson learn that workhorse Bingaman has been given the important task of drafting key elements of the Senate health care proposal. Thus far, the Senate health care debate has focused attention on large employers and taxation of employer-provided coverage, but has included little attention to issues of small business/self-employed. Richardson and Pence tell the Bingaman staff that the exploding costs of health coverage affect nearly every member of ASHI, that small business owners are struggling and should not be left out of a major health reform initiative. The health care problem affects both the bottom line and the quality of life for ASHI members.

Richardson and Pence argue in favor of pooling arrangements that would allow small business groups — like ASHI, for example — to assemble large numbers of small business owners to negotiate for better group rates and fewer exclusions.

Ms. Chavez agrees and takes copious notes, assuring the ASHI delegation that she will mention ASHI’s support for pooling arrangements and other small business provisions when she talks with her boss about the bill.
Meetings such as this have an impact. More than likely, the ultimate tale of any health care reform package will be one of winners and losers. Those who lobby the hardest will be the winners.

The small business community is at a natural disadvantage compared to the concentrated power of the large insurance interests in this debate, but the best resource for small businesses is the power of their vote and their voice as constituents. Every small business interest that comes within one mile of Capitol Hill needs to press the case for small business consideration in the health care strategy.

Each visitor like Mr. Richardson represents thousands of small business voters who have no voice in Washington, D.C. 

U.S. House of Representatives, Capitol Hill, 11:00 a.m.

Leaving Sen. Bingaman’s office, Richardson and Pence march across Capitol Hill to the House side and the Rayburn House Office Building to meet with Cong. Nydia Velazquez, Democrat, of New York.

ASHI recognized her rising star in the House several years ago and began cultivating a relationship with the congresswoman. ASHI’s foresight about her was correct; today, she is the Chairwoman of the House Committee on Small Business — and a good friend of ASHI. She may be the leading advocate for small business issues on Capitol Hill. She also is a senior member of the House Committee on Financial Services and the Subcommittee on Housing, key posts for issues dear to ASHI.

Perhaps most important, Cong. Velazquez is the sponsor of the Consumer Protection Home Inspection Counseling Act of 2009. ASHI has worked closely with the congresswoman and her staff to draft the bill and move it through the congressional process.

Richardson and Pence thank Chairwoman Velazquez for her strong leadership on the ASHI bill and for her keen attention to small business issues.   

Then it is down to business. Richardson, Pence and Cong. Velazquez talk strategy. What is the best means to advance the Consumer Protection Home Inspection Counseling bill? Should we seek a hearing? Do we need to line up more supporters and co-sponsors? Does the potential exist to add this bill to another housing bill as an amendment or should we push it as a separate free-standing bill and take our chances? What is Chairman Barney Frank’s opinion? ASHI has briefed the committee staff and that went well — are they still on board? Do we have any substantive roadblocks? Do we need to offer any amendments? Do we have any problems on the minority side of the aisle? Do we need to brief anyone else? What about a new Dear Colleague letter to seek co-sponsors?   

The detailed strategy session successfully narrows the options and yields a feasible tactical solution: The group will concentrate its firepower on the Predatory Lending bill coursing through the Financial Services Committee. It is a “must-pass” bill for the House, and by riding that wave, ASHI and Cong. Velazquez stand the best chance to get the bill through the House.

If Cong. Velazquez can amend the home inspection provision to the Predatory bill, and that bill passes the House, then the House will be on the record forever in support of the home inspection section. The Senate might pass Predatory, but if not, ASHI can narrow its efforts to concentrate on the Senate, with the work in the House neatly completed.

Meanwhile, ASHI will work on HUD to provide explicit support for the ASHI bill. Richardson and Pence have an appointment with HUD coming up and will use the opportunity to secure a HUD phone call to the Hill in support of ASHI’s bill.

The strategy is complicated, with a number of moving parts, but there are no show-stoppers and one can draw a line from start to finish. Difficult, but doable.    
With the lobbying strategy concluded, Richardson and Pence thank the Congresswoman again. After a quick photo, the ASHI delegation excuses itself while Cong. Velazquez hustles to the House floor for a vote on the latest crisis.   

Moving legislation works up an appetite. For ASHI, it’s noon and time for a quick sandwich at the Capitol Hill Club.

U.S. House of Representatives, Capitol Hill, 1:15 p.m.

Richardson and Pence have a constituent meeting with a certain recently elected congressman in his office.

Some constituent meetings generate remarkable understanding and interest among talented and empathetic members of Congress, helping to form a bond that leads to long-term alliances, giving rise to opportunities to consider favorable legislation, sparking anticipation of an energetic relationship that will lead to fruitful and imaginative efforts down the road.

And some don’t.

U.S. Senate, Capitol Hill, 2:10 p.m.   

Richardson and Pence return to the Senate to meet with Senator Tom Udall, a fresh face on the Hill with a well-known family name. Senator Udall settles in for what turns into a lengthy discussion of small business issues and an explanation of the importance of home inspection.

Udall confides he has many concerns with the Stimulus package, its theories, its methods. The Senator is making it a special point to ensure that small businesses will be able to participate in Stimulus projects when the monies become available. It is a cordial, business-like discussion that becomes a lengthy meeting by Senate standards. Sen. Udall is genuinely interested in hearing about the issues confronting home inspectors.

Eventually, the Senator’s staff breaks up the meeting, but Richardson and Pence come away with a positive mutual assessment: Sen. Udall is a man who gets it, someone ASHI could work with, the kind of Senator the ASHI membership would like, the kind of candidate ASHI might like to support.  

Richardson and Pence pack up and bid farewell to the Senate. There is no time to linger. Afternoon is giving way to evening, and, because it is Washington, D.C., there is a fundraiser on the agenda and work to do there. It is an event to honor ASHI’s friend Chairwoman Velazquez. Richardson and Pence will be showing the home inspector flag using ASHI’s ace in the hole: INSPECTPAC.

This completes Part 1. Part 2 will appear in next month’s edition.