"The crisis will impact anyone wanting to expand or build a business, anything that requires them to get a loan."
— SEN. WAYNE ALLARD
After nearly 18 years in Congress—three terms as a member of the House of Representatives and two in the Senate—Dr. Wayne Allard is nearing the end of his political career.
When the self-proclaimed fiscal conservative from Colorado announced in January he would honor his pledge to serve no more than two terms in the Senate, the AVMA prepared itself for the departure of one of its chief political allies on Capitol Hill. Dr. Allard, 64, has had a hand in passing legislation important to the Association, including the Animal Drug Availability Act and National Veterinary Medical Service Act.
In his last feature interview with JAVMA News as an elected official, on Oct. 3, Dr. Allard spoke about the economic crisis and its effects on veterinary practices as well as energy policy, health insurance, and his plans for life after Congress.
Why did you vote against the $700 billion economic recovery plan, which the president signed into law today?
I voted against the entire bill, but I supported the part that dealt with the financial stabilization. I could swallow the spending in light of the national emergency, but (other senators) added a whole bunch of other spending bills on top of that, and so that drove me to vote no on the entire package.
You're a member of the banking and housing committee. How is the economic crisis affecting small businesses?
The crisis will impact anyone wanting to expand or build a business, anything that requires them to get a loan. Credit has dried up, so no one's borrowing money. And those people who have cash are wondering where to put it, because they're afraid they'll invest it somewhere they might lose it. Large companies are having a hard time moving their cash around, and when that cash dries up, it impacts the small-business sector.
You were a small animal practice owner before being elected to the House. Do these economic problems affect veterinary clinics?
They do if they plan on expanding. They borrow money in cases where they want to start a new practice or expand the practice they have. Whenever your economy has a downturn, yes, you expect your practice to drop down. During the last economic downturn we had in the early '80s, I had a choice between laying off a couple of part-time people or having everyone take a cut in salary. Everybody in my practice decided to take a cut in salary, including myself, and so we didn't have to lay off anybody. Those are the choices you may have to face in a veterinary practice, because people will back off certain elective procedures, and it could have an impact on your practice.
It also depends on the type of practice you have and the area you're in; some areas of the country will be more severely impacted than others. If you're in a metro area where there a lot of people on the lower end of the income field who bought houses, they're probably subprime borrowers, and so that affects the economy a lot in that region. In rural areas where large animal practices are, it may not be as big a problem.
Have we hit bottom?
I think there's still some adjustment ahead of us. We're seeing this happen on a daily basis on the stock market. The (Federal Reserve) may drop the interest rates a little lower. Unemployment is high. You look at the economic figures right now, they're not too encouraging in the short term, but we go through these cycles from time to time, and when you're a small-business man you have to learn to keep a little cash on hand so you don't overextend yourself.
What are your thoughts on the cost of health care for small businesses?
If you go into group health plans, they tend to be more expensive than when you have plans for your individual employees. I haven't looked recently at the AVMA package but the last time I did, it looked like a good deal. Employers need to shop around at times like this. What we did in my practice is I gave each employee a salary increase, and they went and got their own insurance. Lots of practices deal with part-time employees. Individual health plan packages are good for some small businesses. Those that have less than 15 employees may qualify for an individual health plan, pay into it. In an individual health plan, you can put into it up to $5,000 a year and, on top of that, you can then buy a catastrophic plan. I know of small businesses in Colorado that saved thousands of dollars that insured their employees with individual health care plans.
Should Congress help small businesses pay for health care?
I think what they need to do is expand these individual health care plans. Some states are trying to discourage the use of these plans, particularly where they've been heavily lobbied by large health insurance companies. We need to expand the ability to provide individual health care plans. By doing that, we can help our health care costs, based on what's happening in the markets. I don't think a national health care plan or anything like that will hold down health care costs; I think they will continue to climb.
What should the nation do with regard to its energy policy?
We should not take anything off the table. We need to continue to develop more hydrocarbon fuels with the idea that we're developing a bridge to new technology, like renewable energy. Renewables are becoming more and more practical. But, again, it depends a lot on the area you're in. A veterinary practice might consider a geothermal system, where you use the temperature below ground to cool or heat your building. Some communities in Colorado are claiming they're saving quite a bit of money on their energy bills doing that. Then there are always the renewables like wind and solar (energy).
Now with the tax credits coming out, it might make it more feasible for veterinary clinics to do that if they're in an area where zoning laws will allow them to use these renewable provisions. Car companies are coming out with hybrid vehicles. Types of hydrogen energy are being developed. There are future opportunities in renewable energy. My point is the technology is not far enough along for this country to rely entirely on renewable energy. Our greatest hope is to go to nuclear energy. The problem that we have in this country right now is we've lost our infrastructure on nuclear energy because we haven't built a new plant in several decades. We need to move toward nuclear energy; it's relatively clean energy. We can recycle the nuclear rods and we can bring the waste down to where it's very manageable. If they can do it in France and England, we can certainly do it in this country.
Any thoughts about your years in Congress?
I'm very pleased with my time in Congress. You get frustrated a lot, but then we've been able to do a lot for the state of Colorado, been able to do some things to help out the veterinary profession, so I'm pleased with my service in the Senate and don't have any regrets, including my term limit pledge. Now I have an opportunity for my wife and me to decide on what we want to do with the rest of our working years. I hope to be able to work until I'm at the age of 75. I don't look at retiring at 65—my wife doesn't want me in the kitchen. I've also kept up my veterinary license in Colorado.