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Deficit Panel Rules Favor the ‘Extraneous’

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Former Senate Parliamentarian Robert Dove said the new joint deficit committee’s rules will allow it to consider all manner of legislative changes, including ones to Social Security.

Among the issues to watch, according to Republican and Democratic lobbyists: Environmental Protection Agency regulations, patent reform ­ which has passed the House but is awaiting Senate consideration medical malpractice reform, and the financial regulatory overhaul law, which Republicans have vowed to dismantle since it passed last year.

With so much legislative activity, such as the FAA reauthorization and highway bill, pushed into the wings to make way for the deficit debate, the joint committee bill could be the only vehicle left, "the last train leaving the station," as several lobbyists referred to it.

Lobbyists would likely frame these proposals in terms of the long-term effects on economic growth.

"There are a lot of ways the government can cost the economy money," said Scott Segal, a lobbyist at Bracewell & Giuliani, which represents energy companies, including utilities and oil and gas firms. "One of them is through misspending tax revenues, and the other way is imposing a heavy regulatory burden on the energy sector."

Lobbyists could target several overlapping rules governing the power sector and limits on permits for offshore drilling, even though those rules are not directly related to the budget, Segal said.

An idea like that might have traction among lawmakers such as Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) who said Wednesday he's putting a procedural hold on an Interior Department nominee until the agency extends for one year hundreds of expiring Gulf drilling leases.

Lobbyists are in the early stages of strategizing, and with lawmakers on recess until September, the appetite and need for these kinds of elements remains to be seen.

"Our first concern is who is going to be on the committee because that will be very telling," one business industry lobbyist said.

Congressional leaders must appoint the committee members by Aug. 16.

"Anyone lobbying those 12 guys is going to have to be pretty delicate," a Republican lobbyist and ex-GOP leadership staffer said. "And I think filling their inbox with stupid ideas that don't help them solve their problem is bad lobbying."

Plus, with the ink barely dry on the debt deal, most lobbyists struck a cautious tone.

"The absence of the Byrd Rule doesn't remove the other institutional barriers on a piece of legislation like this, including the fact that everyone and their mother is going to be watching this with a microscope and items unrelated to reduction go two times under that," said Rich Gold, a Democratic lobbyist with Holland & Knight.

Still, he said, "there's a difference between what's real and what people are thinking. ... People are going to be looking for opportunities."

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