How Washington’s New Congress Will Affect Retailers and Consumers

The 116th Congress has come to order, with the Democrats now taking control of the House of Representatives.

Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was elected speaker for a second time on Thursday, securing the votes of 220 members out of the 430 in attendance. Her appointment comes during the partial government shutdown’s 13th day as President Donald Trump continues to demand $5.6 billion in funding for his campaign-promised border wall between the United States and Mexico.

In the presence of lawmakers, their families, visitors and journalists, Capitol Hill buzzed with energy as it prepared to welcome a record number of women for the swearing-in ceremony.

American Apparel & Footwear Association EVP Steve Lamar noted the historic moment. “They are bringing in all their new perspectives,” he said in an interview with FN. “There will also be a lot of members that don’t have the background on particular issue, so a lot of education has to be conducted. We spend the first couple months of any new Congress meeting up with as many members as possible to educate them on our issues and our priorities, especially since trade issues are on the forefront of the national debate.”

Less than two months remain before Trump’s 90-day trade war truce with China hits its deadline, as tensions simmer between the the world’s two largest economies. Washington and Beijing are in talks to end the bitter dispute that has already seen tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese imports, with the White House putting on hold its threat to raise levies from 10 percent to 25 percent on $200 billion of those goods. ($50 billion already carry the 25 percent tariff.)

“The president keeps tweeting out that good things are happening, and the Chinese government is considering policy changes internally that would assuage the concerns of the U.S. government,” said Matt Priest, president and CEO of the Footwear Distributors & Retailers of America. “Short-term, if the administration can get to a deal on the China front and set it aside, that will give a boost to the economy.”

As such, industry representatives are getting the ball rolling. Lamar spoke about already meeting with members of the new Congress to discuss trade policy, including the negative impact of tariffs on American businesses and consumers, as well as potential solutions to those problems.

“How that translates into actionable policies that can then make it across the president’s desk to be signed into law still remains to be seen,” he added. “It’s always tough to get stuff done when you have a divided Congress. That’s usually a recipe for Congress to not take a lot of action because it’s hard for the two parties in the two chambers to reach an agreement.”

The assembly also comes as the U.S. economy faces a slowdown, with fears that a number of robust economic trends — including record-low unemployment and affordable gas prices — will begin to temper in this year.

“We’re long in the tooth when it comes to economic expansion; we’ve been expanding for almost a decade now, and it’s not out of the norm to be approaching recessionary territory,” Priest said. “That’s got to be concerning for everybody in retail, not just footwear.”

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