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K Street

Jeffrey Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 18, 2008 1:00 PM

K Street columnist Jeffrey Birnbaum was online to discuss lobbying and politics on Tuesday, March 18, at 1 p.m. ET.

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

A transcript follows.

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Jeffrey Birnbaum: Hello everyone. Thanks for writing in. In today's column I wrote about the National Rifle Association and the National Federation of Independent Business--two very important lobby groups. Let me know what you think about them and their activities. I'll be happy to respond. Also, please don't hesitate to ask about politics. It's the most interesting season I've encountered in all my years in this business. So now, let's get started.

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Woodbridge, Va.: Jeff - Ray Schoenke's group has zero credibility with pro-gun groups. He is known as a "Fudd" (as in Elmer Fudd). These are hunters who are willing to sell out other gun owners who are concerned about self defense and the Second Amendment as long as they can keep their hunting rifles.

Jeffrey Birnbaum: It's hard for me to judge how well or how badly Schoenke's group is viewed by gun owners. I do know that other groups that have come before his and that have taken a similar tack have ended up as failures or without much to show for themselves. Schoenke is well enough known in D.C. and nationally that his effort is certainly worth writing about, however. I would like to revisit the topic at year end or at least after the upcoming election to see how much, or how little, he and his group have accomplished. Any other views out there about Schoenke?

washingtonpost.com: Related Article: New Pro-Gun Group Hopes to Draw From the NRA

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Nashville, Tenn.: How can the American people break the hold of the special interests who control what really happens in congress. It seems that what is good for contributors to campaigns overrides ethics, honesty, morality, and what is right and good for America, are there any congressional people who do not sell their votes for special interests.

Jeffrey Birnbaum: That certainly will be a major battle cry from the presidential candidates this year, especially if it's McCain and Obama in the fall. The fight to break that hold will certainly be a terrific story, if it ever happens for real next year. I'm not betting on it, however. Interests are too well entrenched in Washington for them to be sidelined completely.

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Wilmington: What will this new ethics commission in Congress do anyway? It seems to me that all the new groups in the world won't stop congressmen from stealing.

Jeffrey Birnbaum: You are correct, of course. But the new ethics office is designed to field complaints about lawmakers behavior and to pass along anything to the House ethics committee that bears further scrutiny. The idea behind it is that the ethics committee rarely looked deeply at many such complaints and that it needs to be forced to do so. Will it work? We will see. I note in my column today that the entity is pretty toothless. It can neither put people under oath or issue subpoenas, for example.

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Ray Schoenke's group: I heard about its existence for the first time in todays paper, but they sound like a sensible alternative to the gun crazies who want to "protect" themselves with uzis.

Jeffrey Birnbaum: Yes, many people will agree with you. The question is, will there be so many of them, or enough truly zealous believers, to put up any sort of fight against the powerful National Rifle Association. That is a hard one to guess. But so far, not much has challenged the NRA. Maybe the Supreme Court, in hearing the DC gun ban issue, will do so. I'm not betting that way, though. What about you?

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New York: Woodbridge, Va is full of it.

The NRA likes to talk about hunting when it is talking about ordinary Americans owning semiautomatic weapons like terrorists do. But, it's only lip service. Hunters don't hunt with machine guns, and hunters are concerned with the environment, something the NRA's beloved Republican Party is not. When a group of pure hunters speaks up, the NRA tries to discredit them.

Jeffrey Birnbaum: This is the crossfire I talked about in my column on this issue. Anyone else? Please weigh in.

washingtonpost.com: Related Article: New Pro-Gun Group Hopes to Draw From the NRA

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Matlacha, Fla.: Why isn't anybody raising a stink about the price of oil?!?

No matter if our dollar is devalued or not, the reason oil is so high is because thr Rothschilds started both Shell oil and Standard oil and the electronic hedge funds, and the fiat banks all over the world. They speculate and can't possibly lose. They could throw money into the energy stocks at any time because they have unlimited funds and reap the benefits on the other end because, as I said, they started both Shell and Standard oil!

Jeffrey Birnbaum: I have not heard that particular critique for a while and I don't think I buy it. But, certainly, a lot of people are howling about the high cost of oil. It's just that not much can be done about it. Have a suggestion?

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Prescott, Ariz.: Where did all the calls for privatizing Social Security from lobbyists and the lawmakers that love them go? The nation could use a good laugh right now.

Jeffrey Birnbaum: You're right. I haven't heard much lately about privitizing Social Security, or even about setting up private accounts as part of Social Security. That issue apparently is still radioactive after President Bush tried it and failed so miserably. I don't think that just "lobbyists" were behind it, however. It was a broader effor than that.

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New York: Now we've learned that John McCain, at the behest of Republican lobbyists working for a foreign firm, Airbus, against an American one, Boeing, TWICE intervened to force the Air Force to change the specifications of the refueliing tanker contract to the favor of the foreign firm. Twice! Isn't McCain's media-enabled image as a "maverick" about to come crashing down?

Jeffrey Birnbaum: I don't think we do know that McCain's efforts to stop a Boeing tanker was done at the behest of Airbus. We know only that some of McCain's top advisers, now with his campaign, lobbied for Airbus after McCain already had made his objections about Boeing's product very well known. No media conspiracy is involved here. Just the facts.

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Boston: Was Obama's speech enough to move pass this non-story?

Jeffrey Birnbaum: I think it went a long way in the direction. I found the speech very compelling. Obama rejected Rev. Wright's words but not the man, and he said that prejudice exists in the land, so get used to it. That was not the easy answer, for sure. But it the answer from a person who has thought a lot about the issue and someone who can really be said to be post-racial. On this issue, as he said, his family members are almost every "hue" in the rainbow. This was a very important speech. It shows how he can deal with a serious problem. He did it with authority, but with humility and humanity. Reminds me a lot of Clinton. Bill Clinton, that is.

washingtonpost.com: Barack Obama Confronts Racial Division in U.S.

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Sarasota, Fla.: Congress is not doing all that much. What does that mean for lobbyists? Do they get laid off?

Jeffrey Birnbaum: Not by a long shot. There is some waiting-and-seeing going on by some potential clients. Waiting for next year, that is, when a new president will make things happen in all liklihood. But the lobbyists I know are pretty fully employed, even though they don't have as much business to transact on Capitol Hill these days.

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McLean, Va.: Given the seige mentality that most in the Bush Administration have been operating under, will many of them be able to find lobbying jobs around here next January?

Jeffrey Birnbaum: Yes. Many, many. That's the way that world works.

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Pittsburgh, Pa.: I keep reading about the housing market and its problems. Why doesn't Congress step in like it does on Wall Street and help average people for a change?

washingtonpost.com: Full Coverage: Credit Crisis

Jeffrey Birnbaum: That's a question a lot of politicians will be asking. They already have been asking it. Democrats in Congress are moving to approve assistance for people close to forclosure on their mortgages. We'll see if President Bush really vetoes that bill.

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New York: The Southwest Airlines story seems to have been swept under the rug, despite it being a chilling indictment of a big Republican lie that companies will self-regulate behaviors at the expense of profits. Is this a tribute to the airlines' lobbying prowess?

washingtonpost.com: Southwest Grounds 38 Jets for Inspection

Jeffrey Birnbaum: I don't see how the story has been swept aside. I read about it in every publication I picked up. What else needs to be done?

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New York: I know it's not purely a lobbying question, but can someone put out a "Missing Persons" alert on Chris Cox? I'd love to hear him blame the Bear Stearns implosion on somehow too much regulation and too little CEO pay, his favorite crusades.

Jeffrey Birnbaum: You are referring to the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commmission, which is supposed to be regulating those companies. I think the sentiment you express is likely to be voiced louder and louder in the coming weeks. I would like to ask Chairman Cox the question myself. Maybe I will.

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New York: One of the biggest ongoing lobbying campaigns seeks repeal of the Sarbanes-Oxley Law. Given the fact Bear Stearns CEO Alan Schwartz on Thursday claimed Bear was solvent, revealed to be a lie by Saturday evening, isn't this campaign officially dead?

Jeffrey Birnbaum: That would be my guess, yes.

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Detroit: How damaged do you think Obama is because of what his preacher said?

washingtonpost.com: Related article: Congregation Defends Obama's Ex-Pastor

Jeffrey Birnbaum: I think today's speech by Sen. Obama will limit the damage. It was a very well conceived and delivered address. But the problem will come back in the general election if he gets the nomination, I predict.

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Prescott, Ariz.: If there isn't a media conspiracy to prop up McCain, how come they are silent on McCain's belief that vaccines cause autism, while they freak out about some (non-candidate)preacher believing that AIDS was invented by the government?

Seems like both beliefs are fruit from the same poisoned tree.

Jeffrey Birnbaum: You are entitled to your view. But it is not mine.

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Brainerd, Minn.: Its always been clear that the NRA and the Wealthy of the Republican party use the gun issue (which was not an issue till they made it an issue in the mid 70's) to gain power just as they use abortion to gain power and they were and still are very good at it. The people of wealth could care less about either one, only in so much as they are a tool to get what they want, a strangle hold on government. K Street is another tool only it has roped the Democrats as well. When are the quiet informed electorate who know the reality of this going to do something about it? It does need to stop at some point in time.

Jeffrey Birnbaum: Actually, I think the gun issue is not an issue of the wealthy, but much more of an average-sort-of-guy matter. It is true, however, that pro-gun voters are a very important part of the GOP constituency.

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McLean, Va.: What did you think of Obama's speech. I thought he was terrific.

Jeffrey Birnbaum: Struck me the same way, but I'm just one listener.

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Fairfax: The farm bill is delayed and delayed and delayed. Why can't Congress get that passed and trim it back the way Bush wants? It seems to me that's the biggest waste in Washington.

Jeffrey Birnbaum: That would defy the laws of special interest lobbying, and that's one law that is rarely defied. Espcially now that we're probably in a recession, farmers will get their subsidies I predict.

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New York: Presumably, the Democratic nominee will try to make John McCain wear the Airbus contract. What possible defense does McCain have (excepting his fawning press coverage)?

washingtonpost.com: Article: McCain's Role in Plane Pact Spotlights Ties to Lobbyists

Jeffrey Birnbaum: McCain opposed waste in an early tanker contract, and he was proven correct. People went to jail for their efforts behind the scenes at Boeing, if I'm not mistaken. That's a fairly good argument, whether you're in the "fawning" press or not.

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New York: Isn't this the perfect time to send the SCHIP bill back to Bush and dare him to veto it again, after his bankers gave $30 billion in taxpayer funds to other Republican bankers?

Jeffrey Birnbaum: I bet that's an idea that has occurred to the Democratic leaders in Congress.

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Miami: Where is all the money that's flowing into the presidential campaigns coming from? I can't believe that so many millions are out there and available for politicians like that.

Jeffrey Birnbaum: One reason is pure enthusiasm. An open seat at the White House has brought a lot of energy to the electorate. The Internet is another reason. It's easy to donate by credit card online, and in small amounts. Also, a lot is at stake. The prospect of a continued Democratic Congress has Republicans giving at the presidential level to even out the field and Democrats see the prospect, for the first time in a long time, of real control. Thus the money is flowing.

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Washington, D.C.: Who's to blame for the credit meltdown? Are powerful lobbies at the heart of it like they are of so many other things?

Jeffrey Birnbaum: This is probably one problem that lobbyists did not create. For a change.

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Washington, D.C.: With all these bailouts going on in Washington for Wall Street, why aren't little people getting a fair shake? The lobbies for Wall Street must be working overtime to get those billions for themselves.

Jeffrey Birnbaum: Actually, I haven't picked up a lot of lobbying to get a bailout by anybody. Do you know of some?

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New York: How does the Bear Stearns fiasco affect the huge lobbying campaign to repeal Sarbanes-Oxley? I'm thinking the Bear CEO stating Thursday his company was sound, misleading investors who held $30 stock into holding over the weekend and ending up with $2, is going to be Exhibit A to not change the law.

Jeffrey Birnbaum: That would be my guess as well, in the broadest sense, not necessarily the facts you convey.

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Washington, D.C.: Did you hear about last Wednesday's mass protest by A.C.O.R.N. inside the offices of our beleaguered trade association SIFMA? From what I hear it was quite a spectacle. Can SIFMA get anything right? Apparently they can't even lock their doors.

Jeffrey Birnbaum: I had not heard about it, but I will check. Thanks!

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Jeffrey Birnbaum: Thanks for writing in. Today was lively to say the least. Let's do it again in a couple weeks. Cheers!

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