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Lobbyists’ Focus: How a Law Becomes a Rule

K Street Will Be Watching Closely as Health Care and Financial Regulation Laws Are Put Into Effect

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The health care overhaul drew protests on the Capitol lawn last March. Now, lobbyists are focusing their high-priced attention on how federal agencies write the rules that will determine how that new law works.

With the prospect of gridlock on Capitol Hill and the recent passage of complicated health and financial reform laws that now must be implemented, many lobbyists are shifting their focus from Congress to the executive branch, where federal agencies are hammering out regulations that will have far-reaching effects.

Instead of organizing fly-ins of supporters and underwriting advertising campaigns, lobbyists are securing meetings with key agency officials and submitting lengthy and highly technical comments to regulators.

K Street shops and trade associations are also supplementing their staffs with lawyers and other experts skilled at navigating the regulatory maze and challenging administrative actions.

“This is not sexy at all. It is a different kind of lobbying,” said Scott Talbott, senior vice president of the Financial Services Roundtable.  Staffers at the association, whose membership includes banks, insurance and credit companies, are spending the bulk of their time tracking the implementation of the financial reform law signed by President Barack Obama last summer.

“Halftime is over,” Talbott said. “The legislators have left the field and the regulators have taken over.”

When Federal Communications Commission chairman Julius Genachowski outlined his ideas to regulate the internet earlier this month, he had already spoken with chief executives of AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc., according to FCC records. The top lobbyists for the communications giants had been in touch with Genachowski’s chief of staff about the net neutrality plan to be considered by the FCC at its Dec. 21 meeting.

A parade of executives from the nation’s top financial firms, including Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Citibank, Bank of America Corp. and Morgan Stanley, have met with SEC regulators to discuss provisions of the financial reform law, according to commission records.

But lobbyists are quick to add that they are not completely ignoring Congress, whom they still rely on to nudge bureaucrats or overturn rules their clients oppose.

The oil industry is lobbying Congress to stop the White House from pushing through actions it disagrees with, such as reinstating the ban on offshore oil drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and off the Atlantic coast. The industry is also at odds with the EPA for drafting rules on greenhouses gases.

Jack Gerard, the president of the American Petroleum Institute, which represents big oil companies, told reporters last week that he hopes Congress will step in and exert more control over the agencies.  Gerard said the industry wants to “make sure that unelected bureaucrats are not setting the energy policy of this country.”

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