Feb. 9, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Businesses Lose on Sea Treaty to Heritage

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Some have suggested that Sens. Kelly Ayotte and Rob Portman came out against the Law of the Sea Treaty because of their relationship with Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, but both Senators said they made their decisions independently.

Business groups pushing the Law of the Sea Treaty saw their GOP allies sink ratification this week, losing yet another policy battle to conservative activists.

Lobbyists from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers had what in any other year would have been the key ingredients for passage — a hefty list of supporters on both sides of the aisle and a cadre of outside players, including odd bedfellows such as the American Petroleum Institute and environmental groups.

But months of aggressive lobbying — including personal appeals to Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) from chamber President and CEO Tom Donohue — could not counter political imperatives for Republican Sens. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) and Rob Portman (Ohio), two Romney surrogates said to be on his vice presidential shortlist. Earlier this week, the two Senators along with GOP Sens. Mike Johanns (Neb.) and Johnny Isakson (Ga.) added their names to the list of lawmakers publicly opposing the 30-year-old agreement, pushing the total to 34 — the exact number opponents needed to sink the treaty on the Senate floor. Treaties need an affirmative two-thirds majority for ratification.

Since January, business groups, the oil and gas industry — another traditionally Republican interest — and wireless carriers Verizon and AT&T had pushed for the treaty, in hopes of protecting newly accessible territories ripe for deep-sea exploration and providing guidance for laying thousands of miles of underwater cables that transmit Internet traffic.

The American Petroleum Institute collaborated with the chamber and NAM to run advertisements in Roll Call, The Hill, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Times on June 28, the day all three groups testified in favor of the treaty.

But, a week later, chamber lobbyists seemed to have thrown up their hands, telling Roll Call the political climate wasn’t ripe. Kerry said he wasn’t going to mark up the treaty until after the elections because of the tense political climate.

At the same time, conservative opponents, led by Heritage Action for America, the issue advocacy arm of the conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation, made vigorous and repeated appeals at gatherings throughout conservative Washington, including the weekly meetings run by anti-tax lobbyist Grover Norquist and the Republican Study Committee, according to a source present at both meetings.

This is the latest in a series of chamber-backed measures — including legislation to raise the debt limit, reauthorize highway programs and renew the charter of the U.S. Export-Import Bank — that have run contrary to conservative wishes.

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