This author wrote the book on how to overcome lobbyists. Now it looks like he’s joining their fight.


(Jeffrey MacMillan/Washington Post)

Jeffrey Birnbaum gets credit for writing the book about the 1986 tax reform act. Now, it seems, the co-author of the inside-the-Beltway classic, Showdown at Gucci Gulch, is getting some credit for helping to derail tax reform.

Birnbaum’s book – which he wrote with Alan Murray – chronicles the unlikely triumph of a handful of Washington officials over the well-heeled lobbyists who lingered in the hallways, trying to get what their clients wanted, during the Reagan-era debate over tax reform.

These days, it’s Birnbaum who’s got clients to represent – and he’s using what he learned back then to help them get what they want in any rewrite of the tax code – and block what they don’t like.

As The New York Times writes, a sweeping 979-page tax plan authored by Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, has been the subject of intense lobbying since it was released in February. (Its chances for success had always been slim, but they dropped sharply on Monday, when Camp announced that he’s not running for reelection).

The campaign against Camp’s draft, the Times says, “…reflects a pivot by lobbyists who had spent months cheering Mr. Camp’s three-year effort to draft this giant package, given that its stated purpose was to lower corporate tax rates and simplify the tax code, and who are now working to make sure that the package never becomes law."

Among those who weren’t happy was the small-business lobby. Small businesses often pay taxes at the individual rate, which is higher than the rate for larger corporations, and Camp’s plan would only worsen that disparity.

And here’s where Birnbaum comes in. The former journalist (The Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine, the Post, and more) is now president of BGR Public Relations, where he “leads a team in Washington and London that gives strategic advice to coalitions, companies and governments about handling the media and public policy development.”

While he’s not a registered lobbyist,  Birnbaum has been, as the Times notes, working for the Coalition for Fair Effective Tax Rates, which brings together the small-business lobby, the retail lobby, and others. As Birnbaum stressed in a phone call, the coalition supports the notion of comprehensive reform, but has real concerns about key elements of Camp’s draft, a point the group made in a tough March 14 letter to Ways and Means Committee members.

This time, it seems, the lobbyists are winning – and Birnbaum doesn’t have to worry that someone’s going to write an updated version of his tale.

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