New Congress, Same Obstacles for Democratic Lobbyists

In 2000, Memorial Drive in Atlanta was renamed the
In 2000, Memorial Drive in Atlanta was renamed the "Cynthia McKinney Parkway," honoring Georgia's first black congresswoman. McKinney lost her primary election last year, but her name remains on the road sign. (By Gene Blythe -- Associated Press)
By Al Kamen
Monday, March 19, 2007

The Democrats' takeover of Congress had a lot of their interest groups -- labor, enviros, etc. -- elbowing ferociously for long-sought legislation for their constituents. The groups' lobbyists are feeling the pressure.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association has been working hard to reopen contract bargaining with the Federal Aviation Administration -- it feels it got the short end in negotiations last year about work rules and pay -- and wants Congress to let it do so. But it's a tough go, NATCA President Patrick Forrey said in a March 10 "National Office Update."

"I can imagine how frustrat[ed] our membership must be that our language has not been enacted to date," Forrey wrote, "considering the tremendous amount of support in PAC dollars and campaign activity we invested into the election process." No doubt. Sounds like they've got a good consumer fraud case if they want to pursue it.

"For those who believe this should be a slam dunk," he said, "let me remind you that there are an incredible amount of organizations, associations, special interests and of course labor unions that have been subject[ed] to 12 years of bad government . . . the problem is, we are all competing against each other to get our separate issues corrected."

But the Washington office is working on it. "If you could be in my shoes and talk with these very supportive members," Forrey explained, "you'd have the opportunity to realize the difficulty in undoing something that falls in a long line of things that need undoing . . . that is why it's so difficult to get the total support" from the House leadership on "controversial bills" that might hurt passage of other bills.

But not to worry. "This past week has left us very encouraged about the progress we are making in securing a temporary legislative fix," he said, with Reps. James L. Oberstar (D-Minn.) and Jerry F. Costello (D-Ill.) having penned a joint letter to House Appropriations chair David Obey (D-Wis.) to put language in the Iraq war supplemental appropriations bill that would reopen contract negotiations.

"However, as of today," Forrey wrote, "we have not seen or been told of any language inserted" in the Iraq bill. "It appears that the final approval is going to have to come from Speaker Pelosi," he said, "so we are rounding up all of the support we can garner from" other members to get her "to give the nod." (Last Thursday, the Appropriations Committee approved the bill without the language.)

Lobbying in a Web World

Speaking of doing better on the Hill, sign up now for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's April 3 lobbying workshop: "Getting Heard on Capitol Hill." It's part of a four-workshop series, "Winning in a Web World; Online Strategies for Grass-Roots Advocacy." (If you don't yet have grass roots, you can find out how to create them. )

The three panels on April 3 include one about using the Internet and another on "activating the grass roots." There's also a Q&A session on how lobbying reforms and new Federal Election Commission laws might affect your online efforts.

This being the Chamber of Commerce, the panelists are weighted toward the conservative end: former Bush aide Tucker Eskew, who had the spectacular title of White House director of global communications, and Stephen Hoersting, former general counsel at the National Republican Senatorial Committee. But there's also Winnie Stachelberg, former political director of the Human Rights Campaign who's now at the Center for American Progress, and some media folks and academics.

No Longer a Sign of the Times

It appears that former congresswoman Cynthia McKinney's name will continue to grace the signs on a major road that runs through her old district in Georgia.

McKinney lost in a Democratic primary in August after years of controversy -- accusing the Bush administration of knowing of the impending Sept. 11 attacks but keeping it quiet, scuffling with a Capitol Police officer, accusing Al Gore of having a "low Negro tolerance level."

The old Memorial Drive was changed in 2000 to the Cynthia McKinney Parkway, to honor McKinney, Georgia's first black congresswoman.

A move last year to revert to the old name is pending in the Georgia House and is unlikely to pass this year, the Associated Press reported last week.

There's often trouble when folks rush to honor pols who are still in office. Ohio University in December scratched the name of former representative Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio) from an athletic facility a month after he resigned and pleaded guilty to corruption charges. The Robert W. Ney Center for Health and Physical Education is now the Ohio University Eastern Campus Health and Education Center.

Let's hope Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) doesn't get indicted. There are about 40 buildings in West Virginia named after him.

Riding the Enviro Wave

The environment is the issue of solace for Democrats who've recently lost presidential bids. Al Gore's"An Inconvenient Truth" won an Oscar and he's been riding a wave of popularity these days. Now comes fellow loser Sen. John Kerry (Mass.), who's written a book with his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, called "This Moment on Earth."

Gore is so hot lately that he's the only back-jacket endorser for the Kerrys. He says they "have written a book that is a profound challenge to all of us" and that they "were providing outstanding and courageous leadership" on the issue when hardly anyone else was paying attention to it. Except Gore.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company