Lobby shops and their clients are fast realizing that a full frontal assault on Congress’s budget-slashing supercommittee may not be a fruitful strategy — particularly as some committee members and senior congressional staffers suggest that K Street won’t be terribly welcome at their negotiating table.
K Street’s worry is that it won’t be business as usual in Washington, where lobbyists famously enjoy open access to lawmakers.
Such a scenario may force lobbyists to use indirect techniques to impress clients’ messages upon supercommittee members and their yet-to-be-solidified staffers.
“They’re going to have a little bit of a firewall — that’s exactly what’s going to happen,” said Dave Wenhold of Miller/Wenhold Capitol Strategies and a former American League of Lobbyists president.
Wenhold, whose clients include municipal governments, public colleges and construction companies, said to expect creativity. “Grass-roots, grass-tops — don’t just approach the D.C. office, go to the district offices, too. There will be a media aspect to it — you’re going to see some interesting campaigns,” he said. “The more facets of a diamond, the more opportunity for the sparkle to get noticed.”
“It’s going to be very hard to access them in the traditional lobbying way,” said Rob Leonard, a partner at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. “And it’s going to be hard for them on the committee to meet with a lot of people on the outside because of time constraints. There’s a practical aspect to this.”
The gang of 12’s business is hardly standard congressional fare, its members tasked with achieving at least $1.2 trillion in mandatory budget savings during the next 10 years. And they must do so post-haste, with a Nov. 23 deadline to present their bill and recommendations looming.
“The supercommittee — they’re going to try to be as insulated as possible. They don’t want to look like the ‘evil lobbyists’ have their fingerprints on the outcome,” said Brian Smith, a lobbyist for the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges.
Not that K Street won’t try.
The deficit committee’s decisions will prove critical to the defense, health and agriculture sectors in particular, given that it probably will eye cutting government programs and resources dear to them.
Lobbying firms most likely will make their cases to congressional leaders and congressional members who are close to supercommittee members, but not to members of the joint panel themselves, Leonard said. Powerful as it is, the panel must still win approval for its decisions from Congress as a whole.
Meanwhile, sponsored fundraisers and aggressive check writing are other options for special interests hoping to make an impression on the committee members.
And paid media campaigns, “grass-tops” work and outside-the-Beltway influence efforts also will prove critical for corporations and organizations hoping to convey messages to supercommittee members and their constituencies, Holland & Knight partner Rich Gold said.
“There is no way,” Gold said, “to totally cut themselves off.”
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) this week rejected calls for supercommittee members to suspend fundraising for the duration of the special panel.
“I think every member of the committee has been running for election or reelection during policy debates and has sought and accepted campaign contributions while making decisions on votes and doing their committee work and legislating,” Portman told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “So I would hope that people would acknowledge that this is the way our system works — that we are able to legislate and again also raise campaign contributions as appropriate.”
Thus far, the deficit committee has yet to get started as the 12 members of the panel are scattered across the country in their home districts, meeting with constituents and raising money in the run-up to the 2012 elections — all of which makes it unlikely that the panel will meet before Labor Day.
A senior-level House aide who works for a supercommittee member said that as the process of forming the committee is taking place, members are leaning more toward “keeping their own counsel” and limiting contact with lobbyists.