The Money's Coming, But Where's It Going?

As the economic stimulus package takes shape, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus becomes the go-to guy.
As the economic stimulus package takes shape, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus becomes the go-to guy. (By Susan Walsh -- Associated Press)
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By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The feeding frenzy begins this week at the Senate Finance Committee.

At least that's the hope of dozens of interests eager to get a free ride on the first must-pass piece of legislation of the year: the economic stimulus package.

The House of Representatives plans to take up and approve President Bush 's$150 billion plan without alteration or delay. The Finance Committee and the full Senate do not plan to be so accommodating. Additional tax cuts and spending increases -- beyond those already envisioned -- will be open for discussion there.

That's why every lobbyist worth his e-mail address has trained his sights on the marble floors and wood paneling of the Dirksen Senate Office Building, home to the powerful finance panel.

The National Governors Association, located in the Hall of the States just across a park from Dirksen, last week held an emergency meeting in one of its conference rooms to discuss how best to stir senators' interest. "We've been focusing on the Senate Finance Committee," Executive Director Raymond C. Scheppach said.

The association took a while to decide what its members wanted from Washington. After some ruminating, it decided to ask Congress to direct $12 billion to the states to offset revenue losses they expect to suffer because of the economic downturn.

But Bush's stimulus package came together so quickly that the association barely had time to contact House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) before the deal was done. That left the Senate as the next target of opportunity.

The association normally holds a meeting with lobbyists from each state on Mondays. But the legislation's fast trajectory compelled the group to meet last Wednesday at 4 p.m. as well. About 25 people were on the telephone and another 35 were there in person. They did not have to travel far; most state offices are in the Hall of the States.

The lobbyists were assigned senators to contact. "My staff will go to individual meetings with the staff of the governors' people," Scheppach said. "It's pretty closely coordinated."

On Friday, Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) spoke to at least two Democratic governors, Edward G. Rendell of Pennsylvania and Eliot Spitzer of New York.

Other interests are bearing down on Baucus and his committee as well. Late last week, Baucus and his staff met with representatives of organized labor, including Rod Bennett and Donald J. Kaniewski of the Laborers' International Union, Christopher D. Heinz of the carpenters union and the building trades department of the AFL-CIO, and Jeffrey Soth of the International Union of Operating Engineers.

A tax rebate for low- and middle-income workers -- a foundation of the stimulus package -- "is good as far as it goes, but it doesn't go far enough," said Bill Samuel, legislative director of the AFL-CIO. Yesterday, in fact, the finance panel released its proposal, which adopted an important request from organized labor. It would extend unemployment benefits by 13 weeks, among other additions to the president's package.

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