Business Group To Capitol Hill: Don't Risk Default

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More than 450 business leaders sent a letter to President Obama and Congress this week urging them to reach a deal on raising the debt ceiling. Robert Siegel speaks with Jay Washburn, the owner and CEO of a small business in Boise, Idaho — the Dixon Container Co. — about why he signed the letter.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

This week, a group of more than 450 business leaders, corporate officers and leaders of business groups, sent a letter to the president and the Congress. They urged the politicians to reach agreement on raising the debt ceiling. According to the letter: Avoiding even the technical default is essential, this is a risk our country must not take. Now is the time for our political leaders to act, it said, it is time to pull together rather than pull apart.

Well, joining us now by phone is one of the people who signed that letter. Jay Washburn is the owner, the president and CEO of Dixon Container Company in Boise, Idaho. Welcome to the program.

Mr. JAY WASHBURN (Owner/President/CEO, Dixon Container Company): Thank you

SIEGEL: And why did you sign the letter?

Mr. WASHBURN: Well, I'm really concerned about what's going on. If we pass the August 2nd deadline without raising the debt ceiling, it's going to have some major negative consequences for us.

SIEGEL: Now, everyone from the Federal Reserve Board chairman to Moody's Investor Service, to editorialists and think tanks have been saying that. Do you think some members in Congress or some people in Washington don't get that idea, that it's catastrophe?

Mr. WASHBURN: I think they pretty much all get it. But I think there's just a lot of posturing that's going on. It's very important that we reduce our deficit and our debt, and I think that's an important issue to push. But at the same time, we definitely need to raise the debt ceiling at this point in time.

SIEGEL: According to a Washington Post story about the letter, a story citing anonymous sources familiar with the drafting of it, the letter omits any mention of taxes because, according to The Post, there was not unanimity about whether to urge a debt reduction package that includes no revenue increases or that includes some revenue increases.

Where do you stand on that? Do you think at some point there should not be any tax increases, or there ultimately will be and should be some?

Mr. WASHBURN: Well, I don't think there should be any tax rate increases. Our tax rates are high enough, for sure. But I think it's important that we eliminate special deals in our tax codes, what we commonly call loopholes.

SIEGEL: I wonder if you could tell us a bit about your company. You make the boxes that the things we buy come in. So I figure, I would assume that business is good for you when people are buying a lot of things, and not so good when they're not buying a lot of things. Is that fair?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WASHBURN: That's exactly right.

SIEGEL: So how is it going?

Mr. WASHBURN: We sell boxes to a lot of companies to put their product in to sell to consumers. And when people aren't consuming things, then boxes aren't being purchased. So that slows things down a lot.

SIEGEL: How does that translate into your workforce?

Mr. WASHBURN: We did have a fairly significant reduction in 2009. We also have had a pay rate reduction. We tend to use temporary labor more than we used to, to kind of fluctuate up and down when we need to. But we've definitely had to tighten our belt all the way across the board.

SIEGEL: For you, what is the inhibitions, say, next month from adding new workers? Is it the lack of demand out there in the economy? Is it to your taxes are too high? Is it you face too much regulation? How would you describe what stands between you and expanding your workforce?

Mr. WASHBURN: Well, two major things. One is the lack of demand, which is a direct result of the weak economy. But the other is uncertainty. You know, I don't think that anyone knows what things are going to be like two months, three months down the road.

SIEGEL: It sounds like that's a compounded uncertainty because consumers who are uncertain about their finances aren't going to buy the stuff they put in the box either, for that matter.

Mr. WASHBURN: Right, exactly.

SIEGEL: That's J. Washburn, owner and CEO of Dixon Container Company, a small business in Boise Idaho.

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