Lobbyists Converge on Washington for Piece of Stimulus, Auto Aid

House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) meets with the U.S. Conference of Mayors on Capitol Hill to discuss economic stimulus for cities.
House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) meets with the U.S. Conference of Mayors on Capitol Hill to discuss economic stimulus for cities. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)
Buy Photo
By Annys Shin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Last week it was auto industry suppliers. Yesterday it was mayors from the nation's biggest cities. Now, auto dealers from across the country have arrived in Washington.

With Congress poised to vote on a rescue for the nation's auto industry and President-elect Barack Obama promising to launch a massive public spending program, Capitol Hill has once again become the scene of a lobbying free-for-all, with industry and local governments alike seeking some of the billions in taxpayer dollars that Congress is likely to spend in the not-too-distant future.

While some of the lobbying has been conducted by the usual hands on K Street, a parade of trade groups, unions and business owners have chosen to voice their pleas in person.

Some of the most determined lobbying has come from representatives of the auto industry, who have converged on Washington in an all-out effort to build support for a rescue of the Big Three. Their arrival follows that of the chief executives of General Motors, Chrysler and Ford, who have twice tried to press lawmakers for emergency loans.

Brian Swanson, the general manager of a metal forming company based in Plymouth, Mich., recently joined 50 other auto industry suppliers in a small procession by the Capitol Reflecting Pool. He said the gathering was intended to show Congress that a bailout for automakers "was not a Detroit issue."

"This was about the 6 million jobs that rely on, directly and indirectly, the automotive industry," said Swanson, whose business employs about 300 people at two plants in Tennessee and Michigan.

Separately, a small group of active and retired auto workers from Michigan, Indiana and other states piled into their cars Sunday and drove through the night to Washington. After arriving yesterday morning, they marched to the Capitol and walked uninvited into the office of Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.).

Shelby, who has argued that autoworkers are overpaid, did not make an appearance, but his aides agreed to meet with members of the "auto caravan," participants said.

Annette Sykora, chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association, said members of her group began booking hotel rooms in Washington and scheduling meetings with lawmakers a few weeks ago, as soon as they learned Congress would return after Thanksgiving to reconsider an auto industry rescue plan.

As a result, she said, she has spent more days in Washington over the past month than she has at her home in Slaton, Tex. "I feel like a commuter," she said.

The promise of funds from a stimulus package also has drawn supplicants. With states across the country facing budget shortfalls, governors made their case for federal help last week, when Obama attended a conference of the National Governors Association in Philadelphia. Yesterday, the mayors of New York, Miami, Chicago and other cities gathered in Washington to lobby for their piece of the pie.

In meetings with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), the mayors pitched new roads and water mains, touting the hundreds of municipal infrastructure projects that they said were "shovel-ready." They also argued that some federal money should go directly to cities instead of flowing through Washington or state capitals, which they say would slow the disbursement of funds.

"The overriding concern is . . . if the taxpayers are going to be asked again to put this kind of money out, can we see tangible results right away?" said Manny Diaz, mayor of Miami and president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company