Advocating for San Francisco

This was a busy week on Capitol Hill as groups across the nation – including the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce – assembled to advance their causes prior to the upcoming spring legislative hearings and appropriations.

The national League of Cities drew municipal leaders from across the country to highlight the needs of cities and towns. The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) amassed 600 transportation leaders to stress the importance of highway and transit funding. The Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce brought a group of 200 to lobby for Southern California.  The halls of congress were literally buzzing with visitors and their interests.

Our Chamber was also in Washington, D.C. this week with a delegation of more than two dozen San Francisco business and civic leaders advocating for federal investments that will create jobs and accelerate economic recovery.  Despite all the activity, our group was able to meet personally with key lawmakers including: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, U.S. Census Bureau Director Robert Groves, Obama Administration Trade Policy officials and many other federal leaders.  As I said to a joint breakfast meeting with the L.A. Chamber delegation of 200, “While L.A. shows up in D.C. with an army, San Francisco shows up with a swat team.”

As San Francisco’s unemployment rate continues to rise, our meetings were focused specifically on jobs and economic development.  Our delegation sought federal investments in shovel-ready, job-creating projects in Mission Bay, Hunters Point and other areas.  We hope to bolster investments in ChinaSF, the city’s partnership with the Chamber foundation’s San Francisco Center for Economic Development (SFCED) that has already attracted 10 companies and more than 100 jobs to the city.  We continue to encourage a market-driven solution to climate change that will drive innovation and ignite the economy-boosting cleantech industry.

Our trip also helped strengthen valuable business connections as we all look for ways to innovate during these difficult economic times. Our delegation hosted a reception with the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), got an exclusive private tour of the White House, visited the Homeland Security Emergency Management Agency, and shared best-practices during several scheduled – and spontaneous – meals and events throughout the trip.

As so many groups return to their home cities this weekend, I doubt they will return home with the same sense of accomplishment and comradery shared by the San Francisco delegation.  Throughout the week, we were encouraged by the reception we received from our peers and lawmakers.

Obviously healthcare reform was a key topic of discussion.  While every elected leader agreed that the out-of-control cost of health insurance was not sustainable, there were differences in opinion about the process.  And our delegation made the point at every meeting that the lack of detail was a major concern.  Some of the unanswered questions include the impact on small business, the definition of small business, and the impact on temporary or part-time workers, just to name a few.  For these reasons, the Chamber, along with the L.A. Chamber has not taken a position on the reform measure.

Speaker Pelosi was confident that a reform vote would occur sometime in the next week and made a strong case that there would be time to work out the implementing details to the satisfaction of the business community.  Senator Feinstein, however, expressed concern about the proposed House procedure called “deeming,” in which a vote would be cast for a companion package that would “deem” or imply passage of the broader legislation.  Her preference would be for an outright up or down vote by the House on the Senate bill.

While healthcare reform remains unanswered, the Chamber left Washington yesterday encouraged about the job-creating opportunities in San Francisco.  These federal investments will help put people back to work accelerate our local economic recovery.  As a trade, tourism and innovation hub of the nation, these investments will also help drive the national and global economy forward.

The Chamber thanks the “swat team” of business and civic leaders who took time out of their schedules to advocate for San Francisco this week in Washington, D.C.  We thank the lawmakers who met with us to hear first hand about the challenges facing our city and its businesses.  And we again pledge our commitment to advancing our jobs agenda throughout the year.