During the 2021 Spring Leadership Days REV Talk on Friday, Auto Care Association President and CEO Bill Hanvey talked with co-chair of the Auto Care Caucus on Capitol Hill, Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-PA) on a range of topics from infrastructure, the pandemic and getting people back to work.
Hanvey: “Maybe you could just tell us a little bit about what drew you into public service and your background. That would be really helpful for our industry.”
Boyle: “I’m born and raised in the city of Philadelphia… I am the first of my family to go to college. I went to Notre Dame and then graduate school for Public Policy to pursue a degree at the Kennedy School of Government before entering Congress. I served in the state legislature and Pennsylvania for six years. Representing a district that was partly in Philadelphia, partly in the suburbs. Before that I worked in the private sector and management consulting and some other things in 2014 while in my third term in the state legislature.
“I’m in my fourth term, which is hard to believe but this is my seventh year… I’m proud to serve as co-chair of the Auto Care Caucus.”
What is a caucus?
Hanvey: Could you explain to our membership a little bit about what a caucus does in Congress?
Boyle: Caucuses are a way that a bipartisan group of members — doesn’t have to be bipartisan, but generally it is — can focus on a specific issue and there are all sorts of caucuses. There’s sometimes caucuses dedicated to the U.S. relationship with certain countries. There are issue-area caucuses and this would probably qualify under one of those categories and it’s the way that outside the traditional committee system members can work together to advance the interests that they happen to share.
“In the case of the Auto Care caucus, it brings together a group of us, Democrats and Republicans, who care about this important segment of our economy, which sometimes might be overlooked by folks. And yet is so critically important.
The infrastructure debate
Hanvey: “There’s a lot of discussion going on about the infrastructure debate and what’s in, what’s out, what are the likelihood of its passing as it stands today? Maybe a perspective from your viewpoint in terms of you know where you see the infrastructure bill going and how it might affect our industry?”
Boyle: “For my entire time in Congress, all seven years, this has been one of my top priorities and frankly, one of my biggest frustrations that it hasn’t gotten done yet. I’m a Democrat and even though I was not a supporter of our previous president, I was very willing to work with the previous administration on the issue of infrastructure because I believe that is and should be a bipartisan issue. I was able to do that, by the way, as a state legislator, with our governor, at the time, who was a Republican, and a group of us in the state legislature who were both Democrats and Republicans came together to pass a major transportation bill, and really the first of its kind in over two decades to do some, some really important infrastructure things we need to do. And so I was hoping when I came to Congress to be able to follow through on that same model. I think we’re finally going to get there but it’s been quite some period of time.
“Now and I’ve been quite some period of time — I’m talking decades since the United States has made a major significant investment in our infrastructure. Now when you hear the word you might then ask, ‘okay well infrastructure. What exactly do we mean?’
When I use the word, and I think the case for most of us — roads, bridges, rail, airports, our electrical grid, our water and sewer systems, our gas lines, broadband, which is essentially bringing electricity to rural areas a century ago… So all of those things count for infrastructure. Now, when you look at the grades we get from both the international Council of Engineers as well as the American Council of Engineers, they rate the state of American infrastructure somewhere between a C-minus and a A.
“And if you’ve traveled around the world, you can see our competitors moving ahead of us in this area and frankly as a proud American, that bothers me greatly. Frankly, this is an area where we should be number one and not falling behind. This is not a partisan issue. This is an issue that historically in our country has been bipartisan. You know, the nice thing is if we’re repairing part of I-95 in Northeast Philadelphia which is mostly bridge —iIf you drive on 95 through Philadelphia, you’re at a very elevated driving on a bridge for very long period of time. Iif you’re repairing that bridge you’re doing work that needs to be done in preventing a potential catastrophe, but you are employing Americans. Those are jobs that cannot be outsourced to Bangalore, India, if you’re repairing part of the road that’s broken. So I think it’s incredibly important, I’m a big advocate for it.”
“In terms of the timeline, we are working on it. If you’ve heard the president’s proposals, a number of us in Congress have our own proposals which are similar but not identical. So right now, you know that is all being processed and the Ways and Means Committee will hold hearings this month. Our jurisdiction is more on the funding side. It’s still yet to be determined just how big this bill will be and how it’s paid for, but I’m confident that it will happen.”
“If I were to analyze 2021, I would say there were two must-pass bills. One is the Covid relief bill, the American Rescue plan that was already passed. And then the other is this, the infrastructure bill. So I Believe by Fourth of July, it will pass to be signed into law and then we’re going to be seeing a lot of projects throughout the country.”
Hanvey: And how do you think that that would affect your District Congressman Boyle?
Boyle: Pennsylvania, of course, is one of our oldest states… disproportionately our older states, especially states where the weather is not as nice as the Sunbelt, tend to have more infrastructure needs than the newer parts of our country, the parts of our country that are younger in their development. Specifically for my district, I represent about half of the city of Philadelphia. I referenced I-95 before. There are parts of it literally that are crumbling.
60 Minutes did a piece several years ago, Boyle said, on the state of America’s infrastructure, Boyle said. “They went to all the bridges that are around the Pittsburgh area and then they went specifically to Philadelphia even more specifically my district,” Boyle said. “And they showed part of I-95 that was falling down and in one case, part of it fell on a car that was driving by and that’s how people became aware that the bridge was unsafe. Now, that specific part is obviously repaired, it was some years ago, but the challenge still remains.”
The semiconductor shortage
Hanvey: “We hear a lot about this chip shortage and certainly it’s been affecting some of our members significantly. Can you speak to that for a minute or two congressmen Boyle in terms of what we’re trying to do to either bring that back here or short-term long-term solutions for that?”
Boyle: “Yeah, it is a major problem. This is probably like the fifth or sixth time I’ve done an interview and been asked about it, so I am very well aware of it.
Fortunately, this is a bipartisan issue. There are four of us on both sides of the aisle who are currently working on it. I am cautiously optimistic that we will be able to pass bipartisan legislation to bring chip production back onshore. We absolutely need that. In many ways … this has been a very difficult year for so many of us.
“There have been a few advantages to it, one of which is that in a very short period of time, we got a sneak preview of what the future will look like in terms of more people online, more people online longer, and what it means is, while we have this acute chip shortage now, it’s also a long-term problem as well. It’s just that everything got accelerated. So we need to address this. This is a way in which we can use our tax code in our system to help [incentivize] our private industry to produce these things quickly. And I think it’s incredibly important, not just for our economy but it’s also important in terms of what I would say is a national security issue as well. So like I said, I am cautiously optimistic that we will be able to achieve something on this.”
Hanvey: “Obviously our industry is a global one. From what I’ve understood, the 232 and the 301 tariffs have obviously have had impacts on different industries across the country, obviously have impacted our industry. Can you share any thoughts in terms of what the Biden Administration made forsee for the 232 and the 301 tariffs?
Boyle: “The latest is both are being reviewed right now by this Administration, which I think is appropriate. It’s interesting… this was a way in which Donald Trump, while he was not a traditional Republican when it came to the issue of tariffs, is not someone who was a free-trade advocate in any way, which was a real break from previous Republican administrations.
My view is, I would really like to take the politics out of the trade issue and evaluate every trade deal on its merits. Are we winning? Or are we losing on net is the bottom line.
“As a Ways and Means Committee Member, we have jurisdiction over trade. I went to Ottawa with Chairman Neal (Congressman Richard E. Neal (D-MA) to meet with Prime Minister Trudeau right as the USMCA was sort of in the ninth inning. So I had the opportunity to go to Canada and as part of those negotiations when they were really at a tenuous state. For USMCA, I think that it is a vast improvement upon NAFTA. I think it was actually one of the achievements of the last several years and yet no one really talks about it, oddly enough. I think it’s an example of how a trade deal can balance our labor concerns with also our verve for access to markets. On to 232 and 301, they’re being reviewed now. I have confidence in this administration to reach a sensible landing place on both of those.
Getting people back to work
Hanvey: “Veering away from trade and tariff, some of our members are reporting that they’re having a hard time getting employees back to work. As the economy improves and the rescue legislation plays out, how do you see this issue playing out in terms of getting people back to work and fully employed and and productive?”
Boyle: “You know, it’s a weird economy because first, I’m very optimistic over the next six months or the next 12 months. I think we’re really in the early stages of a boom, but it’s very uneven. There are certain areas where their employers saying, ‘hey, we are looking for people, we’re trying to find them right now.’
“One facet of our economy, the last 20 years it and frankly I think this has fueled some of the voter discontent that we’ve seen is that if you looked at unemployment rates or the last 20 years, economists would have predicted wage growth greater than what it was in reality. And as I mention, I think that has helped fuel some real voter discontent. Certainly, American workers have become much more efficient, but wages have not kept up with that.
“So I wouldn’t be surprised if you know certainly I think we’re on the path toward a, if not quite full employment, de facto full employment, but I think we’re also going to see wage growth as well, and I know that can scare some employers, but I think that wage growth can be healthy. Now, we don’t want to run into a situation with a problem in the opposite extreme where we have inflation. Inflation has not been an issue in my living memory, that’s not to say that it’s impossible. I remember the stories about the first mortgage that my parents got in in the 70s [with] an interest rate of something like 16 percent or something like that.
But the nice thing is I’ve spoken not just as a member of the Ways and Means Committee, but I’m vice chair of the Budget Committee, so we interact with the Federal Reserve quite often. My next call after this is to the head of the Philly Fed… It’s not like if inflation were to happen it’s not like what happened in the snap of a finger. There will be signs along the way.
“As some polling of business owners I saw recently show this, there is a lot of optimism out there. So overall, I am very optimistic and I do think that this economy will sort itself out in terms of those who were laid off in businesses not coming back finding and getting connected to the employers that are having just the challenging time hiring right now.”
Hanvey: Well, we certainly appreciate your support and you having our industry declared as an essential service during the pandemic, critical to keep the cars and trucks moving during the crisis. So we certainly appreciate that support.”
“The last time that you saw our group was in person we had 300 people come up to the Capitol, visited their Congresspeople, and every one of those 300 people Congressman Boyle, I guarantee you, are engaged in the political process. So how can we reach out and you know, what are your thoughts on how someone that typically may be afraid or intimidated to reach out to their congressperson? How can people get more involved in the political process?”
Boyle: You know, it’s a great question, maybe the most important question because the biggest impact you can have is just simply as an individual with your own members. I find that people don’t realize how much of a voice and how much power they actually have. If we get a phone call to our office, not even an in-person visit, a phone call, we pay attention to it.
“Showing up, educating your member [of Congress] — because of this industry is not something that’s going to be on as critical as important as it is, it’s not necessarily going to be front page news. It’s not the sort of thing that cable TV talk show hosts are going to scream their head off about.
“Showing up to your local member of Congress, when that will be permitted again — which I hope and think will be soon — showing up saying who you are, that you are a constituents, how many people you employ — that’s incredibly important. I learned a lot through my relationships with folks in and around my district and then became more and more interested and involved in this industry to the point of becoming a leading advocate for it.”
“Our system working at its best when citizens show up and advocate in front of their elected officials — it’s just crucial. So I encourage you to please do it, get involved, and I think you’ll enjoy it as well.”
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