Unlike 9/11, Lobbyists Plan to Stay Active

Posted March 18, 2003 at 6:48pm

Unlike the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist strikes, K Street will not call a lobbying cease-fire when war breaks out. Instead, it plans to continue working Capitol Hill as some of the nation’s largest corporations press for favors from Washington during what is normally the busiest time of the year, lobbyists predicted this week.

“I do think we are capable of chewing gum and walking at the same time,” said Steve Perry of the Dutko Group. Added David Shea, a spokesman for Raytheon Co.: “Frankly, it’s business as usual. You just continue to go to Capitol Hill.”

The outlook on K Street these days contrasts sharply with the weeks after twin terrorist strikes in New York and Washington drove lobbying activity to a standstill.

The difference: President Bush and GOP Congressional leaders — wary of an electoral repeat after the 1991 Persian Gulf War — plan to pursue a busy domestic policy agenda while at the same time moving legislation to operate and fund military operations.

“We will be really focused on an aggressive domestic agenda while the president is fighting the war,” House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) said last month as military action neared.

Indeed, this week’s schedule in both chambers shows a steady stream of action on domestic legislation even as the clock ticks down to war.

Just hours before Bush strode to the podium to issue his final ultimatum to Iraq, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) scheduled votes Thursday on a comprehensive energy policy bill in his Energy and Commerce subcommittee.

Other Congressional panels plan to work this week on legislation covering everything from assessing biological threats to reorganizing the Olympics.

Meanwhile, both chambers hope to approve next month the president’s budget package, which serves as the vehicle for the administration’s tax-cut plan.

Then, of course, there is the multibillion-dollar emergency supplemental appropriations bill that would cover the tab for military action. Pentagon officials are already piecing together their request, according to sources.

Assuming DeLay and other Congressional Republicans stick to their word, action on a range of legislative issues should keep lobbyists busy through the end of the war and beyond.

“Clients aren’t suggesting that we don’t go to the Hill and lobby,” said Dan Brouillette, a lobbyist with the Alpine Group.

Bruce Gates, a lobbyist with Washington Counsel Ernst & Young, added: “I haven’t noticed a tremendous sense of pulling back.”

To be sure, not all lobbyists agreed. Several lobbyists said the war will inevitably draw the attention of lawmakers across the Atlantic and away from the domestic agenda.

“Are people really going to sit there and work through [Barton’s] electricity title when we have men and women in harm’s way?” asked Joel Jankowski, a top lobbyist for Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld.

“There’s going to be almost total focus on the war,” predicted Jack Albertine, the immediate past-president of the American League of Lobbyists. “The issues that were front and center will be back-burner. It’s going to be very difficult.”

As a result, many lobbyists said military action will at least force them to change their Capitol Hill pitches.

“It won’t change the agenda,” said one lobbyist, “but it may change how we go about doing it.”

“All of the issues will be viewed through the prism of security and defense.”

Lobbyists also said they would have to be careful in how they craft their messages on Capitol Hill.

“It’s a balancing act to represent your clients’ interest on the Hill while keeping in mind the pressure on the Hill,” said Dan Mattoon of Podesta-Mattoon.

Other lobbyists noted that a war could actually benefit K Street because it will require Congress to approve a supplemental appropriations bill, a measure that could become a landing pad for dozens of special-interest provisions.

“It’s always good to have a very patriotic must-pass vehicle,” one lobbyist said.

One group with a particular interest in the supplemental spending bill is the airline industry, which hopes to add a $15 billion legislative package to the measure to help the industry cope with the inevitable losses that war brings.

However, the airlines could find themselves competing against several other businesses for the funds in the supplemental measure.

“Virtually everyone will go to the Hill and make the argument that they are being disproportionately impacted by the war and should be made whole,” said one airline lobbyist. “There will be a lot of different mouths to feed. Everyone will be going to the trough saying that the reason we are here is because of the Iraq conflict.”

Lobbyists agreed that a drawn-out war in the Middle East would change their predictions.

“I don’t think there is any question that if there is any kind of protracted war it will affect lobbying,” said Perry of the Dutko Group.

But short of stiffer-than-expected Iraqi resistance, K Street lobbyists agreed that the climate on Capitol Hill could return to normal shortly.

“If the thing goes off in an orderly and quick manner,” said lobbyist Gates, “we could be back in business very soon.”