Aug. 22, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

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.”

The lobbying surrounding the fiscal cliff has drawn corporate giants such as Caterpillar Inc. and small enterprises including sausage-maker Glier’s Meats in Covington, Ky., to K Street in an effort to influence the outcome.

There’s no doubt the legislative drama and high-level deal-making has been a boost to lobby firms’ bottom lines. CEOs have traipsed between the Hill and the White House, their lobbyists in tow. And nearly every trade association and union has pumped out blog posts, news releases and action alerts to mobilize their sympathizers.

But with negotiations in the hands of a small group of congressional leaders and administration officials, can even the best connected lobbyists influence the process? Is K Street simply engaged in a big display of busywork, or do downtown stakeholders really hold sway?

“They have had an influence, they will have an influence and there’s no way in this form of democracy that you can have major policy changes or keeping the status quo without having groups and therefore lobbyists involved in the solution,” said James Thurber, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University.

Thurber added that President Barack Obama “understands” that he has to listen to the business community as well as the unions and issue groups in order to “bring together a coalition to support what he wants to do.”

It turns out that on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, congressional insiders also are looking to K Street as a conduit of information and deal-brokering because the ties between Hill Republicans and the Obama administration are so frayed.

And Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., 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.”

One high-level congressional GOP aide said that “unlike in previous instances where there hasn’t necessarily been a significant continual ongoing presence on the part of the business community, in the last few weeks both sides have worked hard to engage business leaders.”

And they’re engaged. On Tuesday, 160 CEOs sent a letter to Capitol Hill and to the president urging a resolution to avert the fiscal cliff’s potential for “significant negative economic, employment, and social consequences.”

In a call organized Tuesday afternoon by the CEO lobby the Business Roundtable, the executives said that after numerous meetings with Obama and members of Congress, they could commit to some tax increases as part of a bigger compromise that would also address entitlement changes.

“We really can’t risk the cliff,” Doug Oberhelman, Caterpillar’s CEO, said in the call.

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