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NBWA/Brewers conference sets record attendance in Washington.

Over 1000 representatives of the American brewing industry traveled to Washington this past week for the annual legislative conference organized by the National Beer Wholesalers Association.

The conference was the largest ever, according to NBWA representatives, and the organizers were optimistic about the possible impact on the Hill. "Our goal this year was 100-percent coverage," said David Rehr, "and we think wholesalers will have hit every office."

Following the example of previous years, the legislative conference was organized for maximum efficiency. Wholesalers were briefed on the issues en masse in a general session, and received background information from members of Congress.

The conference organizers assembled an impressive group of speakers, including Senator Bob Dole (R-KS), Congressman David Bonior (D-MI), Congressman John Boehner (R-OH), Henry King, executive director of the Brewer's Association of America, Ray McGrath, president of the Beer Institute and Dr. Edward Hammond, president of Ft. Hayes State University.

The NBWA leadership led the briefing, with NBWA president Ron Sarasin (a former Congressman) offering some candid advice. "It's exceptionally important to develop an ongoing relationship with your member of Congress," he advised. "Don't wait for a crisis to develop. Make your visit, and then follow up with a personal thank-you note.

"Keep the relationship going," Sarasin continued, "and become a resource for your member of Congress. There are few things more pleasing to a Congressman than to be able to go into a brewery or wholesale warehouse and shake a few hands. It allows the Congressman the opportunity to make a couple of additional friends -you can provide him with that opportunity."

Sarasin offered some do's and dont's for Congressional visits, noting that persuasion would prove superior to threat. "Don't threaten," he said, "it is of no value. Every Congressman knows the next election will not be unanimous, and knows that some people will be unhappy with him. So, don't tell him, 'Congressman, I've got a lot of friends, and we won't vote for you.' Don't tell him that. But, if he isn't responsive, be sure to go home and tell everyone, 'Don't vote for the son of a bitch'."

David Rehr, NBWA's vice president for government affairs, was on hand to continue the briefing, outlining the contents of the briefing pack. "We will provide you with everything you need to be successful in your Capitol Hill meetings," he said, "although as super salespeople, I think you already know the ingredients for a successful sales call. We're going to be selling ideas and issues," Rehr said, "and you will need to ask for the order."

Rehr outlined the issues at stake, with emphasis on the possibility of an excise tax linked to health-care reform.

"Hillary Clinton is likely to recommend a beer tax," Rehr said, "and there isn't a day on the Hill that neo-prohibitionist groups aren't pushing for a 150-percent increase in the beer tax. The common refrain seems to be, 'The beer tax is too low, we need to raise it and equalize.' Most members have no idea how much tax we pay, and we have to highlight the negative effect on the industry, and emphatically note the potential job losses from an increased tax."

Rehr also outlined strategies on other important issues, including forced deposits, government advertising warnings, and a proposal to eliminate deductibility of advertising expenses.

For Henry King, executive director of the Brewers Association, there was only one issue: The excise tax. "You can survive if all the other measures go through," he told the gathered wholesalers, "but the three-tier system will go down the tubes if an excise tax increase goes through. They have asked for equalization, which would raise taxes to $29.00-$30.00 a barrel, from the current $18.00."

King also observed that wholesalers would have to continue their efforts after the close of the conference. "This is a continuum," he said, "you can't do it in three days. Your survival is at stake, and this has to be a business priority for the next six months."

In his address, King exhibited his skill at cutting through to the heart of the matter. "Just remember," he said. "You're not going up there to save the world - You're going up there to save your ass."
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Title Annotation:National Beer Wholesalers' Association
Publication:Modern Brewery Age
Date:Apr 5, 1993
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