In addition to my day job as an early-stage venture capitalist, I spend some time on civic activities - I think I must have gotten the social justice gene from my Dad. One of my passions is my work as co-chair of the Progressive Business Leaders Network (PBLN), a nonpartisan group of business leaders that are committed to pro-business, pro-competitiveness policies that are also sustainable and socially responsible.
Last Thursday, I helped lead a delegation of over one hundred CEOs to Washington DC - our most impressive turnout ever - to advocate for policies consistent with our values. We met with over a dozen senators, a handful of Members of Congress and a number of executive branch leaders.
There were many highlights, but here were a few:
- Start-Up Visa. Rep Jared Polis (D-CO), a former entrepreneur, reports that the Start-Up Visa initiative is languishing because there isn't a single Republican in the House that will co-sponsor it. Sen Kerry (D-MA) and Sen Lugar (R-IN) put forward a bill in the Senate (Start-Up Visa Act of 2011) but it's not moving because of the House. Rep Polis also shared that he is starting a Congressional Caucus on "Innovation and Entrepreneurship" along with Rep Vern Buchanan (R-FL) - clearly an important movement to focus and coordinate policy efforts.
- Internet Privacy. Kerry and his staff told us about the recent Internet Privacy Bill he and Sen John McCain (R-AZ) have proposed. They believe a business-friendly, consumer-friendly version will get passed into law eventually after some negotiations with Sen Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), who is pushing for a more liberal bill that includes a Do Not Track provision.
- Deficit Reduction. Sen Mark Warner (D-VA) briefed us on his work as part of the "Gang of Six" - the six senators who are trying to develop a bipartisan, deficit-reduction plan. As everyone knows, the deficit data is scary (I recently read analyst John Maudlin's book Endgame, which is about as scary a book about the global economy as one can imagine). To take $4 trillion out of the deficit over the next 10 years (the common number focused on by the Ryan Plan, the Obama Plan and the Simpson-Bowles Plan), it is clear that entitlements, taxes and draconian spending cuts are all on the table. Many insiders believe a proposal will be put forward this week.
- Investment and Growth Policies. Austan Goolesbee, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors and a frequent guest on The Daily Show, provided his views on the economy and the policies required to drive growth. He seemed less focused on the deficit (scarily, frankly) and more focused on "growing our way out of this". He highlighted the President's focus on innovation policies and job growth, although when pushed he was squishy on details. He did observe that the fixing the IPO market malaise needs attention (an issue that is dampening growth - as analyzed extensively by these two Grant Thornton Reports, one titled "A Dysfunctional IPO Market Fuels Unemployment").
- Deregulation. Will Marshall and Mike Mandel from the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI) briefed us on the need for deregulation. There is a growing awareness in Washington on the importance of reducing regulatory burdens on business. What a pleasure to hear a Democratic group advocate for this! In fact, Mandel shared a good insight: governments should apply regulatory policy during business cycles much like they do monetary and fiscal policy - loosen during times of economic weakness, tighten during boom times. He highlighted Sarbanes Oxley as a huge mistake, just when the economy needed less regulation in the IPO market, not more. He also railed against regulatory overreach on the part of the FCC.
These were just a few of the many highlights. The call to action given to us by the elected leaders still resonates. "We need you. Keep caring. Stay engaged." pleaded Senator Warner. We have only a few months left to achieve a long-term deficit reduction plan and making progress on pro-innovaton policies over the next few months before election fever strikes. Everyone needs to stay engaged in what happens next.