WASHINGTON — Retailers are anxiously watching the upcoming elections to gauge how some policy issues might be affected in a Republican-controlled Congress.
“From a business perspective, everyone is a little nervous about the election,” Jay Campbell, president and chief executive officer, Associated Grocers of Baton Rouge, La., told SN last week. “Everyone would like to see a level of stability in terms of public policy coming out of Washington.
“Most business people are sitting on resources that they have not yet deployed,” he added. “They are waiting to see, what is going to be the taxation policy? What is going to be the regulatory policy? What is going to be the environmental policy? What is going to be the energy policy? There are so many policies that are up in the air — and so much of what has been proposed is so onerous to business — that a lot of people are waiting to see if we can get, No. 1, a clear direction, and a favorable direction, so we can make decisions.”
The uncertainty surrounding such issues as the expiration of a range of President Bush-era tax cuts, the potential impact of health care reform and other issues are a bigger concern to business operators than even the economic state of consumers, said Campbell.
“We know what the consumer is facing right now — they have limited budgets, and limited spending. What you have on the [political] side are some variables that you cannot control, and it makes your ability to deploy resources, whether they are financial or whatever, and your planning almost gets put into an ‘atrophy’ mode.”
Next week's elections, in which Republicans are expected to take control of the House, and possibly the Senate, should provide “some level of clarity” that some policy positions will be shifted, possibly more in favor of businesses, Campbell said.
Jack Brown, chairman and CEO of Stater Bros. Markets, San Bernardino, Calif., noted that the consumers' mood could also hinge on the elections.
“If there's a change of control at any level, many people will see it as a sign of hope because they know the past 15 months have not been bright and any change signals a new direction, and that's what everyone wants,” he told SN.
Jennifer Hatcher, senior vice president of government relations, Food Marketing Institute, Arlington, Va., said the elections are “likely to bring big changes in a host of areas,” as well as “a multitude of new members of Congress to educate on our industry and our issues.”
“Regardless of whether Republicans are able to take control of the Senate, Democrats will no longer have a 60-vote threshold, and thus some of the most concerning labor bills like [the Employee Free Choice Act, known as ‘card check’] will no longer be a live threat legislatively,” she explained. “There will, however, need to be a renewed focus on blocking attempts to accomplish some of these priorities via regulatory action.”
She said FMI expects that the new Congress is likely to support extending the Bush tax cuts (“with at least the hope of repealing the estate tax for good”), and will focus on cutting spending.
In addition, she said FMI also expects changes to the massive health care reform law in some fashion, noting that FMI “has some suggestions.”
“We can also anticipate that issues like cap-and-trade [energy] legislation get put on the shelf and others like trade deals may be taken off the shelf.”
Hatcher also noted that Republicans are expected to make gains at the state level, where they will oversee both budget cuts and the census process that will set up congressional district maps for 2012 — “Not a bad job to have,” she quipped.