The four-week stretch before the August recess might sound like a long haul, especially for this Congress. But by lobbyists’ count, they have at most 16 legislative days left before politics completely swamps the Capitol Hill agenda.
“You’re squeezed,” GOP lobbyist Kathryn Lehman of Holland & Knight said. “You’ve got four weeks left before we really go into total political mode. We’re mostly there now on the big stuff.”
John Jonas, who heads the health care practice at Patton Boggs, said his shop is urging clients to press their case, even if Congress isn’t likely to cross much off its to-do list. “The messaging we’ve been giving to our clients is, this is the critical last window you really have,” Jonas said.
Once Congress leaves town, Members will gear up for the political conventions and are likely to return for only a handful of days in the fall. Much of July’s legislative docket is already steeped in election-year messaging, with the Republican-controlled House scheduled to hold a Wednesday vote to repeal the health care law and Senate Democrats pushing for consideration of the DISCLOSE Act. Neither measure is expected to advance.
Still, lobbyists say they’re trying to influence policy proposals, such as the farm bill in the House, appropriations and tariff measures and other items — none immune, of course, to politics. They’re also looking to grab the ears of Members while they can in the hope of positioning their clients favorably for the lame-duck session and into next year.
“Now’s a good time to come and do your meetings,” Jonas said. “The fact that they’re not going to enact much legislation is no reason not to be here.”
Lobbyists say they’re devoting attention to unfinished spending bills. “We’re planning on having a defense authorization bill and Defense appropriations bill conferenced and passed before the end of the calendar year,” said Michael Herson, who runs American Defense International.
The farm bill, which already passed the Senate, is going to draw in K Streeters representing agriculture and food interests. The House Agriculture Committee last week released its proposal and plans to mark up the legislation this week. One point of contention has been U.S. sugar policy, so the American Sugar Alliance and its allies downtown plan a full effort, said the group’s Phillip Hayes.
“There is a hope to get something across the finish line, get it through the full House by the August recess,” said Hayes, who noted that his organization supports the Senate-passed bill and the House draft. “Whether or not that’s a political reality is really anybody’s guess.”
It won’t be for lack of trying on his side, he said: “It really is a team effort, reaching as many Members of Congress as we can, whether through us or farmers or others.”
Candy makers and other companies that use sugar have been lobbying for a change, arguing that current policy restricts sugar imports, driving up the cost of making their products in the United States.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.