The broad windows of Armco Steel Corp.'s suite at the top of the Hay-Adams Hotel on Lafayette Square provide an unusual, bird's-eye perspective of the White House, starkly white on a thick green carpet, but small and not very imposing.
It is a familiar view to C. William Vertity Jr., Armco's chairman, one of a small number of industry leaders who regularly take the business message to the White House. It will become more familiar in the next year. Next weekend, Verity takes over as chairman of the national Chamber of Commerce.
While it is literally correct that Verity looks down on the White House from the Hay-Adams suite, it may not be figuratively true. But as a new commander of a determined campaign by business against federal regulations, Verity stands in no awe of the White House and its occupants.
"I am convinced the Congress understands and recognizes they have put so many roadblocks in front of business that we've lost our competitive edge," Verity said in an interview last week, describing a major new campaign to change federal laws affecting exports.
He says he is also convinced Congress is going to do something about it. "Whether the administration comes along reluctantly or enthusiastically, I don't know," he added.
Verity's confidence reflects a changing mood among the business leaders who deal with Washington.
After five years of hard lobbying, the business agenda is beginning to win acceptance in Congress. A wide range of regulations affecting business, energy, the environment and health and consumer protection issues is under review. Many are being changed in industry's favor as concern for the economy produces a backlash against regulation.
"Over the past three or four years, business people have recognized that what happens in Washington has more to do with how they do their business than almost anything else," Verity said.
"Business people had been defensive. They were sitting back and letting this happen to them. Now they're not just asking a Congressman for help -- they're providing him with facts and figures, helping him with his problems as a means of developing legislation that is not too harmful," he said.
The turning point was 1974. The trail of money running through the Watergate scandal had come in large part from corporate political funds, implicating business and leaving its credibility in public polls at an all-time low. That year's elections produced an overwhelmingly Democratic Congress.
To veteran Washington lobbyist's such as Bryce Harlow of Procter & Gamble, business had been backed into a corner. "I had the strong feeling we had to prevent business from being rolled up and put in the trash basket," he said in a recent interview with The Baltimore Sun.
Since then, the Chamber's membership has tripled to more than 92,000, through an intensive door-to-door campaign. It has promoted "grass roots" contacts among senators and congressmen and the business leaders from their states and districts to make the legislators think of business as employers and constituents.
Although political contributions by business had increased substantially in recent years through political action committees, business lobbyists have found that many legislators were equally grateful for timely analysis on complicated regularoty issues.
Verity's message in Armco's annual report last March is a blunt-a political statement as is found in that brand of literature.
He notes that he resigned in 1979 as Armco's chief executive officer, while remaining chairman to spend more time on problems of trade and government.
"One of our principal challenges (in the 1980s) will be for businessmen to become more active politically . . .
"We are encouraging all active Armco men and women and all retirees to become involved -- with both time and money -- at the local, state and national level. We urge Armco shareholders to do the same."
Verity's grandfather, George Verity, founded Armco -- then American Rolling Mills -- along the Miami River in Middletown, Ohio, just after the turn of the century and established the company's reputation as a leader in technological improvement in steel making.
George Verity was succeeded by his son-in-law, Charles Hook, but in 1948, the company's directors passed over George Verity's son, Calvin William Verity, for president, going outside the family. Calvin Verity left the company at that point, becoming a banker. His son, C. William Verity Jr. -- the new -- Chamber chairman -- remained with Armco and became its president in 1965 at age 48.
The next objectives for Verity, and the business lobby generally, are passage of a fundamental change in the structure of business taxes to reward greater investment in plant and equipment, and an equally far-reaching rewrite of laws affecting foreign trade.
The tax changes the business lobby seeks, which would permit accelerated depreciation on new plants, equipment and vehicles, would cost the government billions of dollars a year. But the cash that industry would have at hand from the tax changes would permit an overdue modernization of American industry, Verity says.
"That's the kind of atmosphere we want to create. My own feeling is, this will come."