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Businesses Bet K Street Can Sway Debate

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Whitehouse said in a recent interview that the business community has an important role in putting more pressure on the Republican Party “to engage in compromise and cooperation.”

Former Michigan Republican Gov. John Engler, president of the Business Roundtable, announced Tuesday that his group was intensifying its lobbying campaign for a resolution. It will include additional radio, TV, print and online ads over the next “crucial week to underscore the importance of getting this done,” Engler said.

The high-level congressional Republican aide added that the business community’s role extends beyond providing a blessing to a deal Obama wants. Republicans, too, are using the CEOs and their lobbyists to press their demands with the White House, thereby creating an “alternate pathway” for information swapping between the two sides.

“You know these CEOs are talking to each side pretty regularly,” this aide said, “so the folks downtown are pretty important in facilitating that.”

It is a mechanism that fills a void, sources said, in a White House that does not have broad reach into the House Republican caucus.

But some observers are skeptical that executive below the CEO level can move the needle all that much.

“It strikes me that once you get into the land of Obama and Boehner and hardly anyone else in the room, I find it really hard to believe that you’re going to change the nature of an agreement too much,” said Burdett Loomis, a political science professor at the University of Kansas, one of a handful of academics, like Thurber, who specialize in lobbying and interest group politics. “I think that work has already been done.”

Even Jade West, a top lobbyist for the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors, whose group has been pumping out letters and data to Hill negotiators, concedes, “It’s really difficult to quantify results at this point.”

But West and other business associations, including the National Association of Manufacturers, have found that the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee has amplified their messages. For example, on Monday the panel sent out its “tax tracker,” which highlighted quotes from West’s members, including: Tax increases “will only hurt the businesses, which employ many of the same people Obama believes he is helping.”

West agreed that amid the cacophony of lobbying, it can be difficult to get heard — let alone steer the process.

“You can break through with personal contact,” she said. “We try to give the debate some context, and we’re not stopping.”

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