We missed those of you who were unable to join us for last week’s 2014 ESCA Federal Policy Conference and Lobby Day where we had a tremendous turnout of close to 150 ESCA members and guests. This update will provide you with a brief summary of the conference. If you would like further details about the Federal Policy Conference and Lobby Day or ESCA’s activities in Washington and around the country, please don’t hesitate to contact Noelle Lundberg or Matt Pearce at nlundberg@vennstrategies.com or mpearce@vennstrategies.com.

ESCA Board Chair Steve Smith, Vice President and General Counsel of Amsted Industries, kicked off the ESCA conference on Wednesday evening by welcoming attendees and recognizing Principal Financial as the anchor sponsor of the conference. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), the fourth ranking Democrat in the Senate and Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, joined us for the opening reception. In her speech, the Senator outlined her vision on policy paths to move Congress away from the constant fiscal brinksmanship that has been a hallmark of Washington over the last few years towards bipartisan consensus building to address long-term budget issues. She also suggested that the S ESOP structure could play an effective role in future conversations Congress will have about the retirement savings crisis. Should Democrats retain control of the Senate, Senator Murray is likely to chair the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, which oversees the Department of Labor.

On Thursday morning, ESCA’s President & Executive Director Stephanie Silverman set the stage with a political update looking at the current climate in Washington, detailing what’s left on Congress’s agenda, and outlining the landscape heading into November’s midterm elections. In short, the 113th Congress is effectively over and leaves a legacy of being one of the most dysfunctional and unproductive Congresses ever. However, there is still hope for some legislating as Congress is set to convene for a lame duck session post election, probably on November 12. There is speculation that during the lame duck, Congress may address tax legislation such as tax extenders and corporate inversions, though much of what Members vote on could depend on election results and which party controls the Senate next year.

As it currently looks, November is set up well for Republicans to maintain control of the House and potentially gain the majority in the Senate. Republicans need to pick up a net of six seats to take Senate control and races in Arkansas, Alaska, and Louisiana are looking particularly winnable for Republican candidates. However, the GOP has a couple of vulnerable candidates themselves in Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) and Sen. Pat Roberts (KS). Sen. Roberts, who has long been a champion of S ESOPs on the Senate Finance Committee, has a particularly tough race against Independent candidate Greg Orman, now that the Democratic nominee Chad Taylor’s name has been taken off the ballot. ESCA will monitor this race closely.

In addition to Senator Murray, conference attendees had the opportunity to hear from two influential Republican Senators: Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) and Senator John Cornyn (R-TX).

On Thursday, Senator Portman’s remarks focused on S ESOPs as an economic engine of growth, promoting retirement security and creating good paying jobs. He said he was “proud to be a supporter of ESCA’s legislative priorities” and “I want to keep this in mind on tax reform. Congress should not take what works and what’s good – like retirement savings and ESOPs and throw it out.” Senator Portman commended ESCA members for making S ESOPs a bipartisan issue at a time when polarization reigns on Capitol Hill.

The final conference speaker was Republican Senate Whip John Cornyn who delivered remarks Friday morning. Senator Cornyn is the second ranking GOP Senator and serves on the Senate Finance Committee. We had an impressive group of Texas-based companies and other member companies with employee-owners in Texas update Senator Cornyn on their operations and successes. In his remarks, Senator Cornyn noted that because of ESCA’s efforts, “you will be at the table for tax reform discussions.”

Thursday afternoon and Friday morning ESCA company members participated in the annual ESCA Lobby Day and headed to Capitol Hill, while professional members met with officials from the Department of Labor, Department of Treasury and the IRS. The 2014 ESCA lobby day was one of the largest to date with 20 teams, 115 ESCA participants, and meetings with 130 House and Senate offices from 36 states. ESCA members took a proactive message to these meetings asking Members of Congress to cosponsor legislation to help grow and expand the S ESOP structure, so more American workers can gain access to the retirement savings, job creation, and economic security benefits afforded through employee ownership.

Again, thank you to all ESCA members who joined us! ESCA staff will be in contact about Hill meeting follow up and about scheduling district events. If you were unable to attend and would like to visit with your congressional offices, please be in touch with Matt Pearce (mpearce@vennstrategies.com), as we’d be happy to set up a “mini” lobby day for you and your colleagues in 2015.