Tuesday, Feb. 5, 1 p.m. ET

K Street

Jeffrey Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 5, 2008; 1:00 PM

K Street columnist Jeffrey Birnbaum will be online to discuss lobbying and politics on Tuesday, Feb. 5, at 1 p.m. ET.

A list of Birnbaum's columns can be found here.

A transcript follows.


Jeffrey Birnbaum: Hello everyone. Happy Super Tuesday! It's a busy day and I have a lot of questions. So let's get started.


Washington, D.C.: Could you explain Hillary's stance on lobbying?

Jeffrey Birnbaum: Not sure that I can. I'm not aware that she has a stance on lobbying. She is one of the few top candidates for president who does not bash lobbyists in Washington every chance she gets. She has many K Street types who are helping her campaign. In fact, more than any other presidential wannabe. Some of her earlier answers on the subject suggest that she understands how central to the process of governing lobbyists are, and is not interested in demagoguing that issue to get elected. She demogogues others instead.


Washington, D.C.: Which presidential candidate would try to make the most changes how lobbying is done in Washington?

Jeffrey Birnbaum: It would have been John Edwards. But he's not a factor anymore. I think Barack Obama would alter things for registered lobbyists more than his rivals. He would make it hard for lobbyists to work in his administration and then would limit lobbying by his appointees after they leave, much more than under current law. As for changing lobbying otherwise, we have no specifics. Mostly he attacks lobbyists as a rhetorical ploy, a tactic that shows how much of an outsider he is, as a way to convince voters that he hates Washington as much as they do. Don't expect much action, however, even if we get a President Obama.


Boston: If money is supposed to be so important in elections, why is it that Romney has been fading? He's been spending millions of his own money and still he doesn't seem to get ahead.

Jeffrey Birnbaum: It is a myth that the candidate with the most money wins. Ask President Gramm or President Perot. Money and lots of it is needed for any candidate to get into the fight, but having the most is no guarantee of anything. Voters actually do get to choose who wins and who loses. Thank heavens!


Washington, D.C.: How much longer will the presidential race be a race? I kept hearing that it would all be over after Super Tuesday but now I hear it could go on a lot longer. What is it then, over or not?

Jeffrey Birnbaum: First, it's fair to say this has been one of the most exciting presidential contests in decades. There have been so many unlikely twists and turns. McCain rising Phoenix-like from the political ashes. A newcomer to the scene seriously challenging an ex-president's wife. That's good stuff. As a result, I am loathe to predict too much. I think the race will continue after today, which is yet another surprise. Romney could well win more states than many expect, and Obama certainly will. He might even best Clinton in some important contests--with California being the most important. With so few people planning to vote, reltatively speaking, any surge in turnout makes guessing outcomes all-but impossible. In general, though, the larger the turnout the better the day will be for Obama. For McCain, too, in all likelihood. But we will all have to wait and see.


Chevy Chase: What ever happened to the effort to force drug companies to lower their prices? I thought Democrats were eager to do that and then it never happened.

Jeffrey Birnbaum: Well, it looks like the pharmaceutical industry has won on this big issue. Democrats had made negotiating prices under Medicare a priority in the beginning of last year, but the effort died in the Senate. Completely. There are not enough votes to pass it and plenty of Democrats in the Senate are siding with the big-spending drug companies.


Capitol Hill: Hi, Mr. Birnbaum. Your column today about the grouping of several high tech companies' offices around Franklin Square was interesting. However, I know that the Consumer Electronics Association, apparently one of the most influential high tech trade groups, is located over in Crystal City. I know distance doesn't matter in this broadband, interconnected age. It seemes that a lobbying firm or company's presence downtown doesn't matter so much nowadays either.

washingtonpost.com: Lobbyists Hug High-Tech Hub (Post, Feb. 5, 2008)

Jeffrey Birnbaum: I did not say that ALL of the tech lobbies and offices are around Franklin Square. Just the highest concentration of them. And yes, the Consumer Electronics Association has clout, but it is best known, I think, for its trade show. ITI is the main congressional lobbying unit for the industry and it's right there in "Silicon Square."


Washington: Who's going to win the Microsoft-Google fight. In Washington and elsewhere?

washingtonpost.com: Microsoft, Google Come Out Lobbying (Post, Feb. 5, 2008)

Jeffrey Birnbaum: That's a question for a corporate analyist or a technologist, not me. But in Washington, I think both companies are likely to succeed. It's hard to see how Microsoft can be stopped, for anti-trust reasons, from buying Yahoo, if that deal actually happens. Google will not be stopped either from its intended acquisition of DoubleClick. Washington, at least under President Bush, presents very little barrier to mergers. As for the biggest, question, I leave that to the ages, and the experts.


New York: You wrote about the feeding frenzy at the Senate Finance Committee but it does not look like much of that happened. That's probably a good thing too.

washingtonpost.com: The Money's Coming, But Where's It Going? (Post, Jan. 29, 2008)

Jeffrey Birnbaum: Not much, but enough, apparently, to kill the bill. Coal companies, renewable energy companies, and a few other narrow interests got special provisions into the so-called stimulus package. Those are enough to spur Republicans to go gunning for the bill on the Senate floor and they may have enough votes to shoot the bill down. The result will be a delay in rebate checks and a political weapon aimed at the Democrats. They can be charged with trying to help the "special interests," not a happy charge in this election season.


District of Columbia: In your view, what is the most powerful part of the business lobby in Washington?

Jeffrey Birnbaum: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has the biggest wallet and the most clout broadly among business interests, in my view. Individual lobbies, such as the drug companies, also have lots of influence. It's hard to be more specific beyond that. What do you think?


Frederick: All this talk about a stimulus seems silly to me. Whether it's heavy with earmarks or not, it all seems like a lot of effort without much of an outcome to speak of. Why do those people go through the motions all the time like that?

Jeffrey Birnbaum: The economists disagree with you. Most of them believe that a shot of cash from Washington equal to about one percent of the gross domestic product will help in a big way to prevent a recession, which is defined as two successive quarters of falling economic output. The longer the legislation is held up, though, the less benefit it will provide.


Long Beach, Calif.: Why should third-party mercenary lobiiests be allowed to write legislation?

There is no law that says you have a right to be paid for lobbying FOR OTHERS. Eliminating mercenary lobbying in lieu of w2 employee status for lobbiests would end bundling of contributions of multiple clients a'la Jack Abrahmoff (or however that criminal spells his name).

Further, WHY is is appropriate for congress to let these people in effect write legislation that is then passed on as a bill sponsored by senator Clinton, or other such beltway insider?

Jeffrey Birnbaum: Paid lobbyists and the bills they write will be around for a long time, whateve you may prefer.


Detroit: Why doesn't our auto industry get some help in the stimulus package? It seems like if there's one place that needs to be boosted it's car makers who have been suffering even before the recession came in.

Jeffrey Birnbaum: Certainly the auto industry is in rough shape. And, in fact, the auto makers do get a benefit from the package--a big boost in write offs for the purchase of equipment. That's something auto makers and other manufacturers do a lot. But the idea of the stimulus package is not to specifically target any one industry, but to spread the wealth around. The Senate has gotten into trouble by trying to micromanage those goodies.


Wilmington, Del.: What's your guess about Super Duper Tuesday? Will it be McCain's day and will Barack have his time in the sun?

Jeffrey Birnbaum: The voting today favors McCain and is a nail-biter between Clinton and Obama, according to the polls. I am in New York at the moment and will be broadcasting for hours and hours about the race as it unfolds for Fox News Radio. It will be exciting and filled with surprises no doubt. I think it's smart to wait and see the outcome rather than to predict too much. That's certainly been the experience of this ever-surprising election. We should just watch (and listen) as our democracy plays itself out in its very chaotic and wondrous way.


Trenton: Everyone running for president except Hillary I think attacks lobbyists. Is that all just for show or will there finally be some change?

Jeffrey Birnbaum: I vote for the "mostly for show" part. Getting a new president will be enough of a change so that lobbyists, I think, will likely be left pretty much along for the enxt few years.


Baltimore: I don't understand how lobbyists can get rich all the time when Congress is not doing anything much. The do-nothing Congress is what we had before and we still have. But lobbyists have all the business they need and more. Something must be wrong here. What is it?

Jeffrey Birnbaum: It's a mistake to think that lobbyists only thrive when they get things done. The opposite is actually the case most of the time. They need to fight with each other and they get to keep their clients if those fights continue. The last thing most lobbyists want is a complete victory. They lose their business then. As long as issues are out there unresolved, the better off they are. What would hurt is lack of ambition on the part of the politicians, but that never happens, even during a Congress that ends up doing nothing.


Washington, D.C.: Is the tech lobbying business mainly a political game, or is there a need for technological professionals who may not be that politically savvy?

Jeffrey Birnbaum: Lobbying is increasingly a serious, substantive game. Experts are very much in demand. But there will always also be room for access men and sales people. Lobbying is marketing in many ways, but the clients do have to have something to sell.


Jeffrey Birnbaum: Thanks everyone for writing it. I hope you all enjoy the Super Tuesday show. Let's do this again in a couple week. Cheers!


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