Tuesday, April 29, 2014

NRA Public Affairs Conference opens

Hundreds of restaurateurs are in Washington, D.C., to meet with members of Congress about the federal issues that affect how restaurants operate during the National Restaurant Association Public Affairs Conference.

The theme of this year’s Public Affairs Conference is “Stand Up for Restaurants,” part of the NRA’s ongoing campaign to share the industry’s story and promote its role as a leading creator of jobs and opportunity. During their meetings with lawmakers, restaurateurs will help promote the industry’s role in driving economic growth and emphasize the need for changes to the health care law, comprehensive immigration reform, and the renewal of important tax extenders. Other issues to be addressed will include patent reform, menu labeling and labor issues.
LRA Members meet with Senator David Vitter to
address issues important to the restaurant industry
during the NRA Public Affairs Conference.
“In so many ways, this is a pivotal point for our industry. And so it is a pivotal point for all of us here in this room,” NRA CEO Dawn Sweeney said in her opening remarks. “The bottom line is that restaurants are facing issues today that threaten to eviscerate our business model. It started with the Affordable Care Act, and we achieved some important changes to that law. There are still many battles to be fought to have a law that will not irreparably harm our business model.” The industry also continues to push for comprehensive immigration reform and other issues that will allow restaurants to continue to grow and create opportunity, she said.

This year's Public Affairs Conference will be one of the largest in the event’s 28-year history. Restaurateurs from 47 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia will take part in hundreds of meetings with members of Congress Wednesday.

“The fact that you are here today is not just for your own bottom line, but for all of those millions of people working in restaurants across the country,” said former White House Press Secretary Dana Perino, who gave the keynote address. Perino, host of the hit Fox show The Five, shared stories of her time as a member of President George W. Bush’s cabinet and noted that she had worked in a restaurant while she decided on a career path. She predicted that the economy, employment and health care would remain the dominant political issues in the 2014 elections. Partisanship, she said, will continue to be an issue.

“Obviously, we’re at a time when we’re blessed with so much, but we fight over the crumbs and ignore the big problems we have to deal with,” Perino said. “We’re going to be forced to the table on some of these issues, particularly on the financial health of the country. If civility will be rediscovered, it’s going to have to happen at the leadership level.”

LRA President/CEO Stan Harris and LRA Chair
Bruce Attinger present a U.S. Flag flown over the
Capitol to LRA member Greg Reggio, who serves as this
year's State Whip for the NRA Public Affairs Conference.
Geoff Tracy, chair of the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington and a prominent restaurant advocate, told attendees that at a time when restaurant operators seem to have a “legislative target on our back,” it’s essential for those working in the industry to be proactive in engaging public officials, many of whom may misunderstand the cash wage for tipped employees and other industry issues.

“We’re an extraordinarily generous industry,” Tracy said. “We employ an amazing number of people. Good things happen in restaurants every day. We need to get out there and highlight the greatness of this industry to the public.”

Visits from two members of Congress — House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.)—will kick off Wednesday’s events. Cantor and Donnelly support changing the health care law’s definition of full-time from 30 to 40 hours, which is one of the NRA’s advocacy priorities. Cantor was a leading voice for the issue when the Save American Workers Act passed the House last month, and Donnelly is a lead sponsor of the “Forty Hours is Full Time Act” in the Senate.

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