Even if Sen. Patty Murray, Sen. Jon Kyl and the other members of the super committee reach a deal, Congress has until Dec. 23 to approve or reject the panels recommendations in a straight up-or-down vote. That leaves four full weeks for lobbyists to shift their focus from the super committee to the full Congress.
The Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction has until Nov. 23 to come up with a plan to squeeze $1.2 trillion out of the federal budget, but that deadline is merely the beginning of the next phase for the armada of lobbyists, trade groups and other special interests that has gathered around the super committee.
For K Street, billions of dollars hang in the balance.
The 12-member committee has become the center of a lobbying blitz that’s drawn in literally hundreds of advocates of all stripes, from health care and defense industry behemoths to broadcasters, Native Americans, veterans and small-town mayors.
They’ve used every tool at their disposal, from high-dollar TV ads, run both nationally and in the backyards of the bipartisan super committee’s members, to grass-roots campaigns that have generated millions of letters, emails and phone calls to Capitol Hill. And the end of the super committee’s work will not be the end of the lobbying effort, no matter what the result.
“I think it will end up rivaling anything we saw with [the] health care or financial reform” debates of the previous Congress, said Bill Allison, editorial director of the Sunlight Foundation.
Though it’s too early to pick K Street’s winners and losers, defense contractors and their allies are increasingly nervous, while labor and senior-citizen activists defending entitlement programs may be buoyed by predictions that the super committee will fail to reach agreement on a package of cuts. Agriculture industry players acknowledge that the era of generous crop subsidies is over. Broadcasters fear that the panel may see voluntary spectrum auctions as a way to raise revenue.
Defense cuts have dominated super committee deliberations from day one. Industry lobbying expenditures have been relatively small, totaling about $160,000 in the third quarter, according to the Sunlight Foundation. By contrast, the health industry doled out $10 million in that period, making it far and away the biggest spender during the early phase of super committee deliberations.
Defense contractors have relied on their Capitol Hill allies and even on Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to deliver the message that deep Pentagon cuts would hurt military readiness and destroy jobs. Under the budget agreement, if Congress doesn’t approve the committee’s proposed savings by Dec. 23, it sets the stage for automatic, non-negotiable cuts, known as a “sequester,” evenly divided between domestic and military programs.