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.
Let the bidding war begin.Extreme Makeover, D.C.
The term "telephone company" is so1990s. That's why the U.S. Telecom Association has decided to remake itself.
The association has hundreds of members, including Verizon and AT&T, which most people refer to as "telephone companies." But that's too old-fashioned.
"Our companies see themselves as part of a new industry," said Regina Hopper, an executive vice president of U.S. Telecom. "It is a broadband industry."
What used to be phone companies, she said, are really "communications and entertainment companies." She added: "They need for people in Washington to realize their businesses have changed."
Look for new Web sites proclaiming that change and for the lobby to focus on the advantages of broadband, not telephones.
Reinvention is in the wind at the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, too. The group plans a high-six-figure advertising blitz inside the Beltway to highlight the advantages of community pharmacies. Through print, radio and online ads, it hopes to improve retail pharmacists' image enough for lawmakers to block proposed cuts in their Medicaid reimbursements.
The Equipment Leasing and Finance Association is also going through a makeover. It changed its name from the Equipment Leasing Association in 2006 and is trying to prove, through elaborate studies, that equipment financing is a major engine of economic growth and not just another reason to have a trade group.
"Each year, American businesses spend in excess of $1.09 trillion in capital expenditures and 55 percent, or $600 billion, is financed through various forms to acquire equipment," the organization asserts. So there.The Race to Head a Lobby
The race to become the new chief executive of the big lobby for stock and bond traders ended with the selection of a non-Washingtonian: investment banker T. Timothy Ryan Jr. of J.P. Morgan Chase.
But the final group of contenders to head the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association included a few familiar names in the capital.
According to people close to the search, the finalists included three former Republican congressmen: Steve Bartlett (Tex.), now head of the Financial Services Roundtable; Rick Lazio (N.Y.), now with J.P. Morgan; and Richard H. Baker (La.), who left Congress for the top job at the hedge fund lobby instead.Hire of the Week
Dean Zerbe, 43, a top investigator for Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), will become the national managing director for the Alliant Group, a specialty tax services provider for certified public accounting firms and their clients.
The new job, let's be honest, does not sound all that exciting. But Zerbe, a Grassley aide since 2001, is thrilled. "I will be explaining to policymakers in Washington the real impact of the tax laws on the hundreds of mid-sized and small businesses that are the strength of our economy," he said in an e-mail. "The big companies are taking full advantage of these tax benefits; the small and medium businesses need to do the same."
Zerbe plans to open a Washington office of the Houston-based company next month.
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