●Believe that Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) are serious about tax reform, bearing in mind, as Capitol Counsel’s John Raffaelli puts it, that under House GOP rules Camp has only two years left in his chairmanship, “so there’s no ‘we’ll do it next year.’ ” Both members have recently made encouraging signs about moving forward.
●Concentrate on highly focused legislation of extreme importance to particular clients. “It’s sort of anomalous because a lot of people think it’s all gridlock, but government has to function, and there are rifle-shot changes that can be done,” says VH Strategies’ Bob Van Heuvelen, who spent 10 years as chief of staff for former Senate Budget Committee chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.). “Pinprick issues,” Stewart Hall calls them. “We might take a lick at a regulation in an approps [appropriations] bill, but it would be real narrow stuff, and possibly a couple of reauthorizations, the Commodity Exchange Act, but who knows?” says Hall, who co-founded Crossroads Strategies and was legislative director for Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) in the early 1990s.
●Remember that with the reelection of Obama and the failure of Republicans to capture the Senate, three of the administration’s most contentious pieces of legislation — the Affordable Care Act, Dodd-Frank and the creation of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau — are indisputably here to stay. “With that reality comes pressure from the communities who have to live with these realities, and now we’re talking about real-world problems,” explains Raffaelli, a Senate tax counsel in the early 1980s. “So they will need to get better clarification [from Congress], and that creates opportunities to educate members,” he added, using the standard industry euphemism for lobbying.
●Think creatively to find a way to pluck some business out of the few issues — such as gun-control legislation — that are a near certainty. Though “fairly limited in terms of driving activity, it will take up a reasonable amount of congressional time and could take the oxygen out of the room as well,” says O’Brien of the OB-C Group, whose firm is lobbying for Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the coalition led by New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I). Ditto for certain critical infrastructure spending — on highways and harbors, for example — whose funding mechanisms are sorely in need of updating, explains the Smith-Free Group’s Jim Free. “There’s a role for the lobbyist in all this, to make sure the right projects get prioritized. You do that through Congress, since the authorization and approps committees still make decisions on how these things are funded.”
●Remind your clients of two things: that a lobbyist’s institutional memory is increasingly important in a Congress where there are fewer and fewer members who have served for any great length of time, and that they will need your help getting to know all these recently elected members. “If I’m XYZ Company and I have any desire to effect public policy, I sure can’t rely on my own knowing these people,” says Free, a member of the Jimmy Carter White House who’s been lobbying for three decades. “And to make sure my point of view is known to this enormity of new members — there’s business there to be had.”
●Bear in mind one of the few truisms of the influence business: For the most part, lobbying is the very rich fighting the very wealthy. For lobbyists in town, the good news is that a few crumbs from that table can go a very long way.
Goldman is a freelance writer.