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Tuesday, April 29, 1 p.m. ET

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Jeffrey Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 29, 2008; 1:00 PM

K Street columnist Jeffrey Birnbaum will be online to discuss lobbying and politics on Tuesday, April 29, at 1 p.m. ET.

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

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Jeffrey Birnbaum: Hello everyone. Today I wrote my column about an effort on to lobby in favor of earmarks, which is a switch. Mostly voters have heard only bad things about those homestate projects. But lobbyists who make their living getting earmarks are pushing back and lobbying so they can, well, lobby. What do you think of that? Please write in and let me know. In the meantime, let's get started.

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Arlington, VA: Yet another person was sentenced in the aftermath of the Abramoff affair which leads me to wonder if there is anything new about Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed passing money along the chain. If what they did was actually perfectly legal, do you think you can write an article about money laundering for fun and profit?

washingtonpost.com: Full Coverage: Jack Abramoff Lobbying Scandal

Jeffrey Birnbaum: Interesting suggestion for a story. Versions of it have already been done, and will continue to be done, by the way. At the moment, I am unaware of any legal problems that either Norquist of Reed face.

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Washington: So will that Post Office you wrote about last week be passed into law?

washingtonpost.com: Maybe Just Name the Building's Lobby After Her?

Jeffrey Birnbaum: You are referring to my column last week in which I talked about an effort to name a Texas Post Office after a lobbyist for a financial services company. That didn't happen in large part because, in the Senate at least, Post Offices these days are named mostly for people who are recently deceased, often soldiers in Iraq--fallen heroes in other words. The women in question here did not fit that description. In any case, that effort has been sidelined for now. If the legislation to name the office after a lobbyist reemerges, I will write about it immediately. Stay tuned.

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Old Town, Va.: There's so much more paperwork that lobbyists have. I wonder if some people will just stop filing because of it.

Jeffrey Birnbaum: I doubt it. There are much harsher penalties for not complying with the lobbying laws--to go along with the extra paperwork. Some people who question whether they need to file at all might decide not to file given the extra burden. But anyone who really should file probably will do so, no matter how much time it takes.

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Washington, D.C.: My state has two retiring congressmen. Do you know the rules about whether they can take their unspent campaign funds with them? They seem to think they can. That money goes a long way in Alabama.

Jeffrey Birnbaum: They can't take the money personally but they can keep it as a political action committee. That means they can dispense the money for political purposes if they want to. Many former lawmakers do. In any case, the congressmen cannot make themselves richer. What I do not know is if they can give the leftover money to charity. Does anyone out there know?

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District: Why don't you write that John McCain has all these lobbyists running his campaign and complains about special interests at the same time?

Jeffrey Birnbaum: I have and so have other publications. A lot of the top people in McCain's campaign have been lobbyists. Charlie Black, for instance, took a leave from his lobbying firm, BKSH & Associates, to help lead McCain's campaign. And he's not alone. I am sure that the Democratic nominee will hammer away at this point come the general election, especially if that nominee is Obama who has kept his distance from lobbyists for the most part (though, of course, not completely). It ought to be quite a shooting match on that issue.

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Wilmington, Del.: I keep hearing John McCain complain about earmarks. What's so wrong with them anyway? I'd sure like to get more here.

Jeffrey Birnbaum: As I laid out in my column today, there's a lot of disagreement about whether earmarks are the best way to allocate federal funds. The argument of the paper I wrote about today is that earmarking is much preferable to letting government officials hand out the money. Government officials, you won't be surprised to read, think otherwise. But that is the debate. Who should hand out the taxpayers money? Elected officials or executive branch officials. You decide. Please write in and tell me what you think.

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Keystone State: Jeffrey :

Is the Kirk Kerkorian play for Ford an opening shot in the race to buy some good old American brands at fire sale prices ?

Jeffrey Birnbaum: Yes, I think that's part of it. The Las Vegas-based mogul also has shown a longtime interest in car companies, so this merely extends that interest to a new prey.

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Anonymous: Do you think the President offered much remedy for the souring economy at his press conference today ? He did acknowledge the reality though and that suggests bad numbers news tomorrow -- right ?

Jeffrey Birnbaum: The president and the government have done a lot to try to reverse the declining economy lately. This week the rebate checks begin to arrive in taxpayers' accounts. The Federal Reserve Board is widely expected to cut interest rates again this week. And several efforts are being considered in Congress to help the slumping housing market. Is that enough? I will leave that to you. Today he tried to make sure people knew that he was aware that their economic well-being is not so good and to try to put the blame for the situation on Democrats. He has a point here and there. Certainly the Democratic led Congress has not opened oil drilling as much as Bush would like, for example. But the president is always blamed for a bad economy, no matter what he says. So I would give the president and e for effort, but it probably won't work.

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New York: OK, I'll write in that the idea of a Congressman deciding how to spend funds, say in areas of science, is preposterous when compared with the legitimacy of governmental agencies.

Jeffrey Birnbaum: There, one side heard from on the issue of earmarks and who should decide where federal money goes. Anyone agree? Disagree?

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New York: Perhaps the biggest lobbying campaign in the new Administration will concern healthcare. Should the American voters be "reminded" by the Post that McCain has never in his adult life had any other kind of healthcare for himself than the "big government socialism" kind? Or should the McCain campaign be able to continue to decide how the stories in the Post, and elsewhere, are worded and framed?

Jeffrey Birnbaum: Much to McCain's chagrin, he does not get to frame Post stories, or stories in any other major publication for that matter. Your point about his own healthcare is worth noting, but that fact does not seem to have moved him to embrace such a system for the U.S.

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Frederick: All this stuff about the Democratic race! Won't a Democrat win the presidential election no matter who it is?

Jeffrey Birnbaum: Chances are, at the moment, that you are right. Given how unpopular the war in Iraq is and how weak is the U.S. economy, it's probably a decent bet that a Democrat will take the White House. But politics is too volatile to know such things for sure. That's why it's so important to keep a close watch on these things. The outcome is never assured but it is always important.

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Long Beach, Calif.: If mercenary third-party lobbying were illegal, we would still have earmarks. Remember Dan Rostenkowski's ability to pave the midwest in favors? But even old criminal 'Rosty - the biggest spender of them all- was nowhere near as bad as today

Why can't we require lobbyists to work for a SINGLE client as a W2 employee?

I know you're going to tell us that lobbyists will always be with us - like crime... but can you cite a single legality that would prevent this adjustment of the cancer on our government?

Jeffrey Birnbaum: I don't think the government can tell anybody who they can or cannot work for.

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Washington: I read about the energy companies fighting over natural gas. What difference does that make and is that really such a big fight?

Jeffrey Birnbaum: It's an interesting and noteworthy fight, but probably not important in the scheme of things. The bigger question is why energy costs are so high and how can we get them down, I think. The fight between natural gas and other forms of energy is just one sidelight to that larger policy question.

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Fairfax, Va.: What's the most powerful lobby? Out here we have the headquarters of the National Rifle Association, which must be one of them.

Jeffrey Birnbaum: I would say that the NRA is one of Washington's most powerful lobbies. There are lots of others, too. The AARP, for one. We'll see how powerful is the health care lobby, which could well be in the middle of a storm next year, as an earlier correspondent suggested.

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Richmond, Va.: This is considered tobacco country. Is that an issue in Congress any more?

Jeffrey Birnbaum: Tobacco is not as much on the front burner, so to speak, as it once was. But there are still efforts to put cigarettes under the authority of the Food and Drug Administration. I'm not sure the idea will succeed this year, but that one isn't going away.

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Harrisburg: So what's your bet? Will Hillary beat Obama in Indiana?

Jeffrey Birnbaum: She may, narrowly, but I think it's too close to call. Surely, Rev. Wright's high profile reappearance has done nothing to help Obama in that privotal state. Indiana and North Carolina hold their primaries a week from today, by the way. North Carolina looks like it is safely Obama country. But Indiana is a real close race. Bragging rights go to the winner in that state.

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DC: Why has lobbying grown so much? You ran a chart that showed lobbying was up again last year. Will it happen again this year, and why?

washingtonpost.com: Chart: Always With Us

Jeffrey Birnbaum: The chart you are referring to ran with my column last week and can also be found on opensecrets.org. Lobbying continues to grow because so much money is at stake for so many interests in Washington and the cost of paying for a lobbying campaign is small compared to the amount that is at stake.

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Baltimore: You wrote once about the patent bill. I thought it was supposed to pass but it still hasn't. Do you know what happened to it?

washingtonpost.com: Immunity Plan for Banks Loses Backer

Jeffrey Birnbaum: The holdup is in the Senate. Last I heard Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) had some problems with part of that bill and until he came to an agreement with Democrats, the bill would stay stalled. Aides I spoke to were not optimistic that the legislation could be revived, but my guess is it's too early to count it out. There's still time to negotiate.

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Jeffrey Birnbaum: Thanks so much for all the comments and questions. Let's do it again in a couple weeks!

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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