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Rules of the Game: Sequester Spells Bitter K Street Failure

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Holubowich, a Washington consultant who serves as executive director of the Coalition for Health Funding, helped pull together a far-flung coalition of some 3,500 organizations opposed to the sequester cuts.

“Time and time again, economic studies have shown that countries that reduce their government deficits through spending cuts — rather than tax increases — can boost economic growth and job creation even in the short term,” wrote Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, in a National Review Online commentary.

But lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have started taking a closer look at sequester cuts that will affect naval shipyards, research labs and military facilities in their own backyards. Some members of Congress, along with White House officials, have encouraged constituents to speak out against the sequester.

“Cutting federal spending sounds wonderful, and it’s an applause line when you’re back home,” Holubowich said. “But the reality of that hasn’t set in with the public.” However, she added, “it’s starting to set in with lawmakers.” Indeed, the outlook might change once constituents start losing access to camping areas and waiting in longer lines at airports.

“We’re pushing to the end and beyond,” said Cord Sterling, vice president of legislative affairs at the Aerospace Industries Association. Even if the sequester is allowed to kick in Friday, lawmakers could mitigate the worst of the cuts as part of a fiscal 2013 budget deal.

“We’re still beating the drum,” said Jeremy Scott, a government relations director at Drinker Biddle & Reath who is representing the Spina Bifida Association and others.

But the path forward could be a lobbying nightmare. A continuing budget resolution that’s keeping the government open expires at the end of March. Congress must then enact either another resolution or an omnibus spending bill to keep operations running, which is when some sequestered programs’ funding might be restored. “It’s a mess,” Scott said.

And even if lawmakers manage to soften the blow of the sequester, bigger budget fights are looming over even tougher issues, such as tax increases and entitlements.

“I’m hopeful that [members of Congress] will understand that you can’t solve deficit reduction by continuing to cut discretionary spending,” Owens said. “Rather, there has to be a bigger solution.”

This story has been updated to clarify that the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance participated in a lobby day on Capitol Hill this month with other health care advocates.

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