Business to Congress: Stop the games

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As a businessman, I recognize the importance of restraining federal spending to reduce our budget deficit, contain the growth of federal debt, and re-establish fiscal discipline. Our long-term stability depends on it. If Congress fails to fix its internal issues and our budgetary woes, the nation’s economy will be at risk. Now is the time to address tax and long-term entitlement reform as well.

Consumer confidence and access to capital are critical to the success of businesses like mine, as they are the economic engines and backbone of our communities. Restaurants often must tap into lines of credit to make payroll, especially when sales soften. The rising interest rates and economic uncertainty that would result if we do default on our debts would make this critical business activity significantly more expensive.

After more than two weeks of watching the members of Congress haggle, posture and play an ugly round of blame game across the aisle, the country has avoided default and the federal government is once again open for business. But now is not the time to be confident.

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Businesses around the country suffered mightily during the recent government shutdown, as small business loans and financing were threatened, jobs were lost and consumer confidence once again began to decline. But despite the Oct. 16 deal brokered by Democrat and Republican leaders to raise the debt limit and reopen the government, it appears this is just a temporary fix. The fact is we all could end up back in the same place in January, when the extension ends and it is time to renegotiate once more.

As an established small business owner and vice chair of the National Restaurant Association, I’m here to tell you the time for game playing is over. Our country and our business community cannot withstand another round of “kick the can down the road.”

It is time for Congress to get its act together and come up with a long-term solution that benefits all of us.

To ensure a better outcome the next time around – and we anticipate there will be a next time ‑ it is important that I, my fellow restaurateurs and other small business owners, tell our lawmakers they are playing a dangerous game with our country’s stability and all of our livelihoods. Americans and other nations around the world will lose confidence in our government’s ability to govern on behalf of “We, the people.”

It is no secret that the ongoing battle to break the gridlock dampened our economic confidence and that small business owners, who struggle to turn a profit every day, were the ones that most felt its fallout. Even before the recent crisis, our economy had been underperforming and consumers and restaurant operators seemed less-than-optimistic about the direction of the economy.

The restaurant industry relates very closely to consumer sentiment. A recent national survey conducted by the National Restaurant Association found that only 21 percent of consumers said they expected the nation’s economy to improve in the next six months. Twenty-six percent of adults said they thought the economy would get worse, and 51 percent expected things to stay about the same.

In its September 2013 Restaurant Industry Tracking Survey, just 23 percent of restaurant operators said they expected the economy to improve in six months. Twenty-two percent said they thought economic conditions would worsen, and 55 percent expected the economy to remain the same.

Now, however, with the most recent threat of debt default behind us, but another one looming in about 90 days, those negative expectations could grow stronger.

I, and my restaurant industry brethren, urge the members of both political parties and chambers of Congress to work together to remove any threat to the full faith and credit of the United States government ‑ now.

It should be clear to everyone; the time for games is over.

Ken Conrad, chairman of the Libby Hill Seafood Restaurants Inc., is also vice chairman of the National Restaurant Association.