The worst-kept secret on K Street these days may just be how little work there is for lobbyists who arent doing health care reform.
Most K Streeters wont cop, at least publicly, to enjoying extended lunches and cutting out early to hit the golf course, but thats the guilty pleasure that many non-health-care consultants and lobbyists have been facing this fall.
While influence peddlers arent exactly twiddling their thumbs, for lobbyists who specialize in such industries as telecommunications, agriculture and high tech, Capitol Hill just doesnt have much of an appetite for their agenda.
Its a holding pattern, said Jade West, who focuses on trade and tax issues for the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors.
Veteran lobbyists say its unusual for a single piece of legislation to so completely take over a Congress.
Of course theres the financial services regulatory overhaul and the climate change bill lumbering through the legislative process, but with senior members of the House Financial Services panel and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee engrossed in working on the health care package, its almost impossible to get Members of Congress and staff to pivot to other issues.
Id like to think Washington can walk and chew gum at the same time, said David DiMartino, a public relations consultant at Blue Line Strategic Communications.
But DiMartino says it has been tough to get traction outside of health care even for a top Congressional priority like climate change.
Case in point, DiMartino said he recently struggled to get an opinion piece on climate change written by President Barack Obamas pollster Joel Benenson placed in newspapers.
You have to force the issue and be more creative in how to break through, DiMartino said, which for him has meant focusing on getting media attention outside the Beltway.
In a down economy where most lobby shops faced a decline in revenue last year, that has translated into working much harder to persuade companies to continue shelling out retainers that can reach up to $50,000 a month when most committees are at a standstill.
You have to acknowledge right now its health care, health care, health care, but that doesnt mean you quit your job, one veteran lobbyist said.
For many, that means holding conference calls to plot out post-health reform legislative strategies.
As the calendar year quickly winds down, lobbyists say they are looking for opportunities in legislative must dos. This year there are at least two tax bills the estate tax, which is slated to expire at the end of the year, and the research and development tax bill that are garnering some attention.
Lobbyists say they are also spending time building up goodwill by hosting fundraisers and bringing clients up to Capitol Hill to tell the positive side of their corporate health care and wellness programs.
But not everybodys buying the keeping-busy-building-good-relationships mantra.
Thats just consultant speak because they dont want to be laid off, one Democratic trade association lobbyist said. For the most part, nobody on the Hill wants to hear anything if its not health care.
Lobbyists say even meetings designated for other Congressional business are being taken over by health care.