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Mr. Jackson Goes to Washington

Why Jackson’s Journal? During the course of any week, in my role as co-founder of Accelerate Madison, and in my day job as VP of CCC, I meet many interesting entrepreneurs, IT professionals, business leaders, financiers, and government officials. I attend many luncheons and events from which I desire to share my observations. I will mix satire, humor and facts so that we can have some fun revisiting my experiences. My first Journal is about my recent trip to Washington D.C. for a series meetings coordinated by the Independent Business Association (IBA) to discuss dynamic scorekeeping, federal spending, healthcare and medical savings accounts as they relate to, and affect, small businesses in Wisconsin. These meetings also involved discussions about regional economic branding efforts by the CORE Coalition (a regional branding organization) as well as how we can increase federal funding for the emerging IT development community in Wisconsin.

Mr. Jackson Goes to Washington

WASHINGTON - My experience was quite like the late actor, Jimmy Stewart in his famous role in Mr. Smith goes to Washington! I arrived in DC for a number of meetings with public officials. Before getting down to business, I spent some free time taking a casual stroll around the White House to experience the political surroundings first hand.

A country boy from Wisconsin, I was nervous about my upcoming meetings with many high-profile, full-suited, famed political figures whom I feared would make me appear much like a Jeff Foxworthy joke.

I was put at ease by the site of Attorney General Ashcroft devouring a sloppy hotdog he had hastily purchased from a street vendor. This was my first surprise about the irony of this city...and not because hotdogs should carry warnings from Mr. Ashcroft himself. Mostly because everywhere I looked were historic buildings with profound quotes of honesty, integrity and faith inscribed on their facades.
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I asked myself, "Are the tourists the only ones reading this stuff?" As a patriotic citizen, I have to believe our system is good and right, but the realization makes me glad I am here exercising my voice and attempting to play an active role

Comprehensive Computer Consulting, where I am acting VP of Sales & Marketing, is a member of the Independent Business Association of Wisconsin (IBA). With the help of the IBA, we have set up meetings with public officials.

I won’t go into detail about my opinions on each meeting, but I will say we shared our opinions in direct meetings with the following politicos and more: Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, Congressman Mark Green (R-WI), Rep. Tom Petri (R-WI), Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI), Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI), and Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI).

The focus in our meetings was on government spending and small business/healthcare issues. For the first topic we stressed our dismay that discretionary spending has increased from $584 billion in 2000 to $843 billion in 2003: a 44% jump in three years! I can’t even come up with a half-wit joke about that. If we dig a little deeper over the last five years, excluding defense spending and focus on extra-constitutional discretionary spending, the numbers are as follows according to the IBA :

Unemployment Compensation—up 130% in 5 years
Education—up 71% in 5 years
Highways—up 45% in 5 years
Agriculture—up 77% in 5 years

The only area of decline was interest expense, not because of less debt, but solely a result of lower interest rates….wooohooo! What seems ridiculous to me is that we sit in with all these different delegates and they are excited about the proposal to ONLY raise discretionary spending by 3.2%…. Meanwhile, back at home, many small companies are asking management to take 5% decreases and haven’t raised the staff pay in two or three years! Maybe we can get them to tap a little deeper into the discretionary account for some ‘whine’ and cheese. No sympathy here, we better move on…

Oh, you want Benefits?

The second topic, small business/healthcare, has been a political hot button for years, and it still seems to make even the most calm, collected, savvy politicians squirm. The healthcare policy debate rages on and seems to be headed toward more government involvement, which is not appealing to a large majority of small businesses. We, as individual users of health care services, are in the best position to help fight costs. In third-party payer scenarios we often don’t even pay attention to what the bill is or what a fair price should be. Instead, many of us arbitrarily assume our insurance, at whatever the cost, will just cover it. If we had control and could “shop” our service, the landscape would inherently become much more competitive.

We can’t just sit idly by and blame the government, even though they often make themselves an easy target. After all, we do have a voice since small business creates more than 85% of all new jobs. The problem is too few speak up and push for something to be done….well, that’s part of the problem.

In the end, after two solid days of meetings I did feel pretty good about how receptive most of our delegates were. We had our share of agreements, disagreements, and often just agreed to disagree.

A visit to Tommy T’s

In addition to clearing my conscience by exercising my “voice”, which alone is a great feeling, the most interesting event of the three-day journey was a visit to Tommy Thompson’s Command Center at HHS. That is an amazing facility! I have to admit when I walked into the Center, not even the fresh dark suit could hide the drooling or the blank stare of an awestruck, beer-guzzling, cheese head dreaming of the Packer party possibilities of a forty-foot plasma wall! GO TOMMY!!!

Now the journey ends, and I’m back to the reality of fighting for my small business. So here I sit looking at the bill from my trip to see the over-spending politicians with their armies of energetic “staff.” For a moment I gasp at the cost and wonder “where will I get the cash to pay for this,” …but then I quickly remembered a valuable lesson I learned while in Washington. It doesn’t matter how much my cash balance is as long as I have plenty of checks left!

Let me know what you think? And what you want me to know.

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James Jackson is Vice President at Comprehensive Computer Consulting. He can be reached at james@wistechnology.com.

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