WASHINGTON — The need to address a tangled corporate tax code and burdensome regulations on the nation's manufacturers were Rep. Lee Terry's takeaways from his first subcommittee hearing in charge.
The eight-term GOP congressman from Omaha is now chairman of the House panel with jurisdiction over manufacturing.
The first in a series of sessions titled “Our Nation of Builders,” Thursday's hearing was a Valentine's Day bipartisan love fest that Terry hopes will set a tone for the subcommittee's future.
During the hearing, representatives of eight companies highlighted the challenges and opportunities facing their businesses.
Taxes and regulations were frequent targets for complaints.
Bob Holler, an executive at 3M, talked about his company's plant in Valley, Neb., that employs more than 500 people making respirators and other personal protective equipment.
Holler discussed corporate tax reform and the protection of intellectual property, but also more specific concerns.
He suggested that the government work more closely with manufacturers on how to ramp up production and delivery of personal protective equipment when an event occurs. He noted that 3M has stepped up to supply equipment in major events, such as the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the 2009 outbreak of H1N1 influenza, commonly referred to as swine flu.
He also said the nation should create a stockpile of protective equipment for emergency personnel and the civilian population. He said the nation's supply of N95 respirators stood at 104 million before the H1N1 outbreak but now is down to 17 million.
The witnesses at the hearing also said finding skilled workers is a challenge.
That might seem counterintuitive, given persistently high unemployment, but Terry said it's a complaint that he has heard from companies in Nebraska.
During a recent tour of a local business, Terry said, the company's executives told him that they had been trying for months to fill several welding positions.
The reasons behind such difficulties could be one area that the subcommittee delves into this year, Terry said.
“There are small manufacturers in Omaha that are having a hard time finding employees,” Terry said. “Is that a skills gap we have to bridge?”
More hearings are coming, including ones that will look at the auto industry and chemical manufacturing.
Thursday was largely a listening session and an effort to get things off on the right foot. Both Republicans and Democrats on the committee talked up their interest in cooperation.
It remains to be seen how that will play out over the next two years with Terry in charge.
Simplifying the tax code and reducing burdensome regulations sound good in theory, but plenty of potential remains for partisan divisions once lawmakers get into the nitty-gritty.
Terry organized a pre-hearing expo that featured 60 products manufactured in the home districts of 20 subcommittee members from both sides of the aisle.
There was an engine block from Tennessee, nutritional supplements from Texas, pieces of steel from Mississippi and models of aircraft and satellites produced in California.
Rep. Brett Guthrie, a Republican, displayed bourbons from his home state of Kentucky, and Delegate Donna Christensen of the Virgin Islands, a Democrat, set out bottles of rum.
Among Terry's contributions: a box of Kellogg's Raisin Bran, Banquet pies from ConAgra Foods and a 3M respirator.
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