GE is hardly alone. Nearly 100 registered lobbyists who used to work for members of the supercommittee are now representing defense companies, health-care conglomerates, Wall Street banks and others with a vested interest in the outcome of the panel’s work, according to a Washington Post analysis of disclosure data. Three Democrats and three Republicans on the panel also employ former lobbyists on their staffs.
The presence of so many lobbyists adds to the political controversy surrounding the supercommittee, which will begin its work in earnest this week, when Congress returns to Washington. The panel has already come under fire from watchdog groups for planning its activities in secret and allowing members to continue fundraising while they attempt to negotiate a budget deal by Thanksgiving.
“When the committee sits down to do its work, it’s not like they’re in an idealized, platonic debating committee,” said Bill Allison, editorial director of the Sunlight Foundation, which is tracking ties between lobbyists and the panel. “They’re going to have in mind the interests of those they are most familiar with, including their big donors and former advisers.”
The 12-member committee is tasked with identifying $1.5 trillion in spending reductions over a decade, with the final plan to be approved by Congress. If no deal is reached, however, $1.2 trillion in across-the-board cuts will be triggered beginning in 2013, with the amount evenly divided between defense and non-defense programs.
The sheer scale of the plan has set off something close to panic on K Street, as many of the nation’s largest industries face reductions in potential revenue from federal programs.
Defense contractors, for instance, are eager to push the panel toward an agreement that reduces the scale of cuts to the Pentagon. The health-care sector, meanwhile, has a multitude of worries, from potential reductions in hospital payments to proposals to limit prescription drug prices under Medicare.
“Everybody in the Western world will be trying to influence the supercommittee at the same time,” said Loren B. Thompson, a defense industry consultant at the Lexington Institute. “If it was constructed to scare the daylights out of the political system, it’s certainly done the job.”
The stakes are particularly enormous for a diversified company such as GE, which has been awarded nearly $32 billion in federal contracts over the past decade, with much of that business going to lucrative defense and health-care subsidiaries, according to government tallies. GE’s chief executive, Jeffrey Immelt, also heads President Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.