Tanner Could Land Prosperous Perch on K Street

Posted December 2, 2009 at 6:31pm

While the Blue Dog Coalition co-founder’s retirement is causing Democratic discomfort on Capitol Hill, moderate Rep. John Tanner’s (D-Tenn.) approaching departure is generating considerable optimism on K Street, where the Member could soon be greeted with a seven-figure payday.

“John would be an asset no matter where he goes,— former Rep. Bud Cramer (D-Ala.), a Wexler & Walker lobbyist, said on Wednesday. “He has impeccable relationships on both sides of the aisle and on both sides of the Hill.—

Tanner’s office declined to comment on the lawmaker’s post-Congressional plans. A spokesman said he intends to finish out his term, and public records available from the House Clerk do not indicate Tanner is in negotiations with potential employers.

“Congressman Tanner plans to serve out the rest of the 111th Congress, represent the 8th district and work on some economic development projects that we’ve been working on in Tennessee and finish his term in the NATO parliamentary assembly, given the specific challenges facing NATO right now with regard to Afghanistan and Pakistan,— spokesman Randy Ford said.

Other sources familiar with Tanner’s thinking confirmed that he is not considering any offers at this point. Still, with more than two decades in Congress and an in-demand ideological profile, the high-ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee will have no shortage of lobbying prospects before him in the coming months.

“He really is not thinking about this part of it — his mind isn’t there yet,— a Democratic lobbyist with ties to Blue Dogs said on Wednesday. “There will be high demand for him if he decides to pursue that area. Given his moderate background, years in the House, service on the Ways and Means Committee — all of those things scream for desirability. Anyone with that background would be in high demand.—

Blue Dog lobbyists also agreed that Tanner could come with a hefty price tag. They speculated that the seventh-ranking Democrat on the tax-writing panel could garner an annual salary of $1 million or more at a large lobbying shop.

“Someone with his seniority on the Ways and Means Committee and the respect he commands on that, he obviously would be a sought-after addition,— another Blue Dog lobbyist said. “It has everything to do with his understanding of the tax code. People like that are very few and far between … his prospects would be very good.—

Vickie Walling, Tanner’s chief of staff, also may soon be overwhelmed with job offers. Walling did not respond to a request for comment, but downtown sources speculated that her options “would also be excellent,— perhaps demanding a starting salary of $350,000 or more.

“She knows so many Members, staff, people in the Senate, the White House — she would be just as sought after,— a lobbyist said. “She would do well.—

Cramer called Walling “terrifically helpful.—

But don’t necessarily bet the house that Tanner will cash out with a big lobbying firm, lobbyists say. Sources familiar with his thinking also say he could leave Washington, D.C., for good once he finishes his 11th term in January 2011. Short of that, the retiring lawmaker may make a good fit atop a conservative-leaning trade association or advocacy group looking to up its Democratic bone fides.

“A big firm could definitely utilize those skills, a trade association could definitely utilize those talents,— a lobbyist said.

A lobbyist with ties to Blue Dogs also said that it would not be out of character for the native Tennessean to chuck it all for a plum policy position.

“He’s obviously always been involved in deficit reduction with the Blue Dogs,— this lobbyist said. “Don’t be surprised if he ends up at one of these think tanks that don’t pay much of anything.—