Aug. 29, 2014

K Streeters Feel Shock of Brown Senate Win

Sen.-elect Scott Brown’s (R-Mass.) victory on Tuesday is sending shock waves down K Street, where trade associations, contract lobbyists and interest groups began frantically reconsidering their advocacy strategies in light of the GOP’s new power to filibuster.

“Things couldn’t be better,” a Republican lobbyist said on Wednesday. “For the first time in a long time, clients care about what Republicans think, and our clients are beginning to wrap their arms around the fact that Democrats are going to get murdered in November.”

As Bay State Attorney General Martha Coakley’s (D) special election loss began to sink in Wednesday, the fate of ongoing negotiations to rewrite health care laws immediately became the subject of a multitude of downtown conference calls and face-to-face strategy sessions. Climate change proposals, “card check” legislation and other contentious bills that had tenuous Senate support even before Massachusetts voters went to the polls Tuesday were also early consensus picks of legislation that may whither on the vine if not altered dramatically.

“Card check is dead,” one source familiar with the negotiations said early Wednesday.

Even with a full legislative plate that includes financial regulatory reform, how to ram through a health care reform bill with 59 members of the Senate Democratic Conference dominated conversations on Wednesday, with lobbyists speculating that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will use arcane revenue rules to will a bill to the president’s desk.

Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, a liberal health care advocacy group, warned that Democrats will be in more trouble if they fail to move ahead on the reform legislation. Noting that the Democrats still control the White House and both chambers of Congress, Pollack said, “If Democrats cannot deliver on the top domestic priority, it will be hard for the Democratic Party to assert it is the party of change,” he said.

Pollack said he is open to the House passing the Senate version followed by a budget reconciliation measure to resolve the differences. He said most of the differences, which involve money, could be addressed in the reconciliation measure.

Ralph Neas, president of the National Coalition on Health Care and a former aide to Edward Brooke, the last GOP Senator from Massachusetts, said that while there was no consensus on the next move, interest groups and Democratic leaders will try to find a way shortly to push through health care legislation.

Neas also agreed that reconciliation rules are the most obvious vehicle to move the health care overhaul. Reconciliation measures require only a majority vote in the Senate and would not require Brown’s support, although Neas stressed he should be present to vote on it.

Another option making the rounds at K Street firms is the idea of Congress passing a slimmed-down version of health care reform.

One health care lobbyist said many of those interested in the legislation are now reviewing the various options with an eye on how it affects them.

“They are prepping to protect themselves and their interests,” the lobbyist said. But the lobbyist added that it will take a week to assess the fallout from the election.

“Emotions are running high, and people need to take a deep breath,” the lobbyist said.

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