The Big ‘I’ Goes to Washington

By | May 21, 2001

It was a new year, a new administration, and a new round of visits on Capitol Hill. Although not as critical a legislation year as past years, the issues remained as pressing as ever, and the 800 attendees of the 25th Annual Independent Insurance Agents of America (IIAA) National Legislative Conference took their responsibilities seriously.

The conference, which concluded on May 5, featured high-level speakers, meet-and-greet receptions and numerous meetings on the Hill between independent agents and their elected representatives in Congress.

According to IIAA’s Vice President of Public Affairs, Jeff Myers, those meetings are by far the most important part of the conference. “A lot of productivity is generated out of those visits. Our members are able to convey the important messages to our congresspeople, and this helps us in our lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill for the rest of the legislative session.”

Key topics this year included state insurance regulation, tax reform, and financial and medical privacy legislation. Independent agents, many of them small business owners, visited the individual offices of congressional representatives to share their views.

And the visits were not just one-way. Some of the biggest names in Washington came to speak to conference attendees at the Grand Hyatt.

Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) told attendees that the gateway to positive change lies in campaign finance reform. “We are gridlocked by the special interests and the big money that they donate,” McCain told an appreciative audience. “We know that you can’t take the money out of the campaign, but we must level the playing field. All of us are special interest; we should all have a say. But right now, it’s the people with the big money who are sitting in the front of the room with a megaphone and the other citizens who are shut out.”

Introduced by IIAA CEO Bob Rusbuldt as “a true American hero,” McCain touched on what he sees as the key concerns facing the nation. Among those were conservation and the exploration of the use of alternative energy sources, including nuclear power. McCain said that Arizona’s power crisis is not as severe as California’s, due to the existence of Arizona’s nuclear plant.

“I believe climate change is taking place, although we do not know how severe it will be. We need to alert the American people to this change and adopt an effective energy policy.”

McCain also emphasized the need for improvement in the “state of men and women and equipment in the military,” as well as the need for reform in the social security and Medicare systems. Healthcare continues to be one of the most difficult and important issues.

As far as taxes, which was one of the main concerns for agents making Capitol Hill visits, McCain said he supports setting the estate tax exemption at around $5 million and favors tax breaks for working Americans and the elimination of marriage penalties. “I’m in favor of the tax cut, but I’m afraid of the imbalance and the burden that is placed on working families,” he said.

McCain stressed the importance of motivating America’s young people to serve. “Young Americans are more patriotic than my generation. We must engage them in the political process and help them to serve. To do this, we must expand on existing programs and start new ones. Our job as leaders is to inspire them to serve a cause greater than one’s self interest—that’s what being an American is all about.”

Other speakers included Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), both of whom emphasized the importance of state regulation of insurance as opposed to federal. “States ought to retain that jurisdiction,” Nelson said. “It’s important to you and to the consuming public.”

Santorum called proposed national insurance regulation an unnecessary “federal bureaucracy which is far removed and out of touch with the needs of particular communities across the country.”

In his remarks to the IIAA, Senior White House Advisor Karl Rove praised President Bush’s tax cut proposal and emphasized the positive effect tax reform would have on small businesses across America. “The tax rate of 39.6 percent [the highest tax bracket] falls squarely and firmly and strongly and unfairly on small businesses, like you,” Rove said. “That is money that you could otherwise be plowing back into your businesses or be paying your employees or be financing expansions in your business.”

Rove stressed the important role agents have in helping to bring the Bush tax cut to fruition, saying that agents need to express their opinions to their elected representatives. “They need to know that America’s small businesses are the driver of America’s growth.”

Many awards were given out over the three-day conference, including the Legislator of the Year Award, which Rusbuldt presented to Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.). Burns was commended for his efforts to overturn a ban on the use of the installment sales method by accrual-basis taxpayers.

The Bernard J. Burns Award was presented to Harold M. Humphrey, the 2000 Chairman of the Florida Association of Independent Agents’ (FAIA) InsurPac fundraising efforts.

John S. Grummett, the 2000 Alaska InsurPac chairman, was honored with the InsurPac Young Agent Recognition Award. Grummett surpassed Alaska’s fundraising goal by raising $3,275 despite being chairman of one of the smallest IIAA state affiliates in the country with only 51 agencies in the state.

InsurPac, IIAA’s political action committee, was established in 1975 to complement the association’s legislative programs.

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Insurance Journal West May 21, 2001
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