Lobbyists Brace for Changes

Posted January 30, 2009 at 11:24am

With the dust still settling after a high-profile gavel coup late last year, House Energy and Commerce Committee lobbyists continue to explore the practical effects of Rep. Henry Waxman’s (D-Calif.) ouster of Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) after a narrow vote.

“A lot of things are sorting out — staff is still being hired and it’s not as clear as to who will be working on what issues,” one Democratic lobbyist said. “So many of the key issues are going to be dealt with by that committee … this year we really do anticipate some really major legislation in energy and health care.”

“There’s just so much that is under the purview of that committee that is going to be front and center for the Congress,” the lobbyist said.

Telecommunications, too, is expected to be high on the panel’s agenda, as lawmakers consider updating the nation’s digital-information grid. And perhaps further complicating matters for the tech sector and its lobbyists: Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) is replacing Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) as chairman on the newly renamed Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet.

“The big change is that Markey no longer is going to chair the subcommittee,” said e-Copernicus’ Greg Rohde, who specializes in telecom startups. Boucher and Markey “have very different perspectives: Boucher comes from a different market, a rural district and historically [has had] more concern about small, rural phone companies, whereas Ed Markey has had to care about other issues.”

“You’re going to see a difference, just because committee chairmanship matters a lot in the House,” Rohde added. “The Energy and Commerce Committee will be very different than under Dingell-Markey.”

Silicon Valley Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) also likely will “continue to be a major player” on telecom issues, Rohde said. It remains to be seen whether the successor in the House to expected Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, who also served on the technology subpanel, will be assigned there.

“They’re losing Solis to the Labor Department,” Rohde said. “She was pretty active and a very interesting voice on the committee on these issues as someone who represented a heavily Hispanic constituency.”

Although lobbyists spoke glowingly of Waxman and his staff, Dingell’s long tenure was a predictable commodity for many downtown influence peddlers — many of whom were one-time Dingell staffers themselves.

Still, some lobbyists downplayed the effects of the Dingell-Waxman switchover.

“The expectation is that there’s going to be a good deal of cooperation. John Dingell wants to make this work — he’s been given a good deal of status within the committee apparatus,” a lobbyist said. “Other than energy, I don’t see much of a difference in opinion.”

“There will have to be compromises to reach consensus in the committee — now and as there always has been,” the lobbyist added.

Lobbyists also offered their appraisals of Waxman, who was described as attentive and thorough — but also exacting, when it comes to considering proposals from special interests.

“He will listen to what people have to say. I think he has strong, well-developed views on certain things, but always has been someone who has been open to new ways at looking at things,” a Democratic lobbyist said. “Fundamentally, the views you hold are the views you hold, but within that there is certainly a good bit of room for a broad discussion.”

“You have to be well-prepared, know your issues and articulate them,” the lobbyist added.

The new chairman’s West Coast roots also likely foreshadow a shift in the committee’s priorities. While Waxman represents Beverly Hills and Bel Air, Dingell hails from old-economy southern Michigan and is considered the Big Three’s go-to lawmaker.

Telecom lobbyists were also quick to praise Waxman. Ralph Hellmann, of the Information Technology Industry Council, said that “it’s great because he’s from California, so he has an understanding of the technology community,” while USTelecom’s Walter McCormick offered, “We feel very, very comfortable with the new leadership of the committee.

“Mr. Waxman, being from California, has always been particularly interested in content and entertainment issues, [and] today, more and more Americans are getting their content and entertainment issues over the internet and through broadband,” McCormick said.

Despite all the highly publicized moves on the committee, one Democratic lobbyist predicted that it will continue to be business as usual because “it’s the makeup of the committee that will determine what moves and what doesn’t.

“This is a year is which this committee’s jurisdiction is really relevant to all the issues that face this president and this country,” the lobbyist said. “These are people who want to see things done and have waited many, many years for this opportunity — and they’re not going to let it get away from them.”