As a long-time political junkie, i was delighted to receive an invitation to the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors? annual executive summit in Washington, D.C., this year. Rubbing shoulders with members of a middlemen?s trade group may seem an unlikely way to get an insider?s view of the political process, but the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors, or NAW, isn?t just any trade association. The group has especially close ties to the Republican Party, which helps explain why it was able to draw some of the capital?s heaviest hitters, including political mastermind and senior Bush advisor Karl Rove, to its two-day January event. It also goes a long way toward explaining why speaker after speaker endorsed the administration?s conservative agenda and its prevailing ethos, that good government is small government.
But whether NAW speakers like it or not, government continues to play a big role in the world of commerce. At the same time that I was visiting Washington, I was reporting on some of the key regulatory initiatives brewing inside the Beltway for a story that appears in this issue. What I learned varied little from what I hear every year?many, if not most, of those looming regulatory initiatives will affect the nation?s distribution logistics operations.
Naturally, the agenda has changed over the years. At one time, the battles centered on the deregulation of air, rail, highway and finally ocean transportation. But today, despite an occasional flare-up (like the struggle over granting rights to confidential contracts to non-vessel operators), the deregulatory battles have been largely replaced by debates over safety and security. Today?s lawmakers grapple with tough questions like how to tighten security or promote highway safety without choking off the flow commerce?and it?s no surprise that reasonable people disagree on how best to go about it.
Of course, some things never change. The latest iteration of the highway funding bill will soon make its way through Congress. Five times now, Congress has extended the current law while internal battles have raged over the level of funding, and who was going to get what. There?s nothing like a highway bill to provide political entertainment—in this case, the stampede for political pork. This particular battle pits not red versus blue states, but donor versus donee states—that is, it?s a classic struggle over shares of a finite pie, a battle as old as politics itself. All roads led to Rome, remember, because Rome had the political clout.