K Street Mounts Campaign to Sway Obama Speech

Lobbyists and representatives for interest groups are engaging in last-minute conference calls and meetings with White House officials hoping to sway what President Barack Obama says to Congress and the nation during his State of the Union address Wednesday night.

While most K Streeters find themselves on the sidelines when it comes to influencing the annual presidential address, everyone downtown, at the very least, is working to keep their clients and member companies posted on the issues that Obama is likely to bring up.

The White House on Monday held a phone briefing on its Middle Class Task Force to lay out key agenda items that will be included in the speech.

And some business groups have ramped up their own lobbying efforts to coincide with the highly anticipated address.

The National Association of Manufacturers today plans to release a new economic study called “Jobs for America: Investments and Policies for Economic Growth and Competitiveness.— According to the group, the survey will look at the effect of changes to tax policies to stimulate the economy.

And the U.S. Chamber of Commerce launched a “jobs week— lobbying blitz Monday.

“We’re going to have a loud megaphone,— said chamber spokeswoman Tita Freeman, noting that in addition to lobbying, the group would be running advertisements this week to get its message out.

Many lobbyists with a stake in the health care reform debate say they have had no input on the president’s speech. Instead, they will watch it closely for clues on where the overhaul might go next.

“Everybody’s going to be waiting with bated breath,— said Democratic lobbyist Andy Rosenberg of Thorn Run Partners. “There’s a recognition that we need to put health care in the rearview mirror by cobbling together and passing some provisions that have ready-made bipartisan support.—

Rosenberg pointed to bills such as the Small Business Health Options Plan that have both Republican and Democratic support.

Katherine Lugar, executive vice president of public affairs for the Retail Industry Leaders Association, said her group participated in Monday’s call with the White House.

RILA, which has been lobbying on health care reform and jobs initiatives, is expecting the State of the Union to tackle both of those thorny matters.

Although RILA ultimately came out in opposition to both the House and Senate health care reform bills, Lugar said she and her colleagues would be tuning in to the president’s address to see if they might find some common ground.

“Maybe there’s a way to address some of the concerns we’ve had,— she said. “We’re going to be seeing the tone of the message that the president sends.—

When it comes to jobs, Lugar — a former aide to then-Rep. Tim Roemer (D-Ind.) and daughter-in-law of Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) — said she’ll be listening for “meaningful incentives to spur job creation.— But she’ll also be on defense to make sure the president doesn’t promote any union-backed agenda items such as the Employee Free Choice Act.

“We want to make sure that he’s not teeing up ideas that would be a big giveaway to labor,— she said.

Rosenberg said that he and his downtown colleagues hope Obama does not press for Congress to use reconciliation to pass health care reform. Reconciliation would allow Democrats to avert a filibuster to pass some pieces of their health care overhaul.

“Democrats on K Street are scared of a reconciliation strategy on health care reform because it would look gimmicky, like we were playing unfair,— he said.

Some advocates are working to downplay client expectations for their signature issues.

Frank Maisano, who specializes in energy policy at Bracewell & Giuliani, sent out a regular briefing to his clients and contacts on Monday predicting that climate change probably wouldn’t be much of a focus for the president’s speech. Cap-and-trade climate legislation has been idling in the Senate, and its prospects for passage in that chamber are dim.

“Given polling data that shows jobs, the economy, the deficit and health care on top of everyone’s mind, I would suspect unless energy and climate change has the word ‘jobs’ on it or attached to it, it will see little mention other than in passing,— Maisano wrote. “So, I would expect the President to have a boiler-plate reference to climate policy in his speech, but not too much more.—