K Street

Jeffrey Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 27, 2008; 1:00 PM

K Street columnist Jeffrey Birnbaum will be online to discuss lobbying and politics on Tuesday, May 27, at 1 p.m. ET.

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

A transcript follows.


Jeffrey Birnbaum: Hello everyone. Thank you for reading and for writing in. It looks like we have a bunch of questions to start. That's great, but please feel free to interrupt as we go along. We could always use more. So, let's get started.


1220 L Street: If you and others only knew how unsuccessful "big oil" is and has been.

Elected officials and others consider oil lobbyists to be like nuclear waste -- don't come near us.

If "big oil" was so powerful and successful do you think both coasts would be off limits to drilling (moratoria from the 70s and 80s), ANWR would be closed (80s), the RFS would have passed, etc.??

If you look at the record, "big oil" has historically fared better under D than R presidents.

Now, that's the story.....

Jeffrey Birnbaum: Interesting theory. Especially coming from someone at 1220 L Street, which I assume is NW and I also assume is the headquarters building of the American Petroluem Institute, the main lobby for the oil and gas industry. If you are excited about a Democratic president, then that would be news and you might also get your wish. Care to say more?


Alexandria, Va.: Will Grassley's Physician Payments Sunshine Act (S.2029), in its latest form, be attached to the Medicare reimbursement fix that must be passed by July 1?

Jeffrey Birnbaum: I honestly don't know. Could you write back with a short explanation of the Act and what its merits (or demerits) are?


Trenton, N.J.: John McCain has a tough new policy on lobbyists in his campaign. What possessed him to crack down like that in a way that makes him look so bad?

Jeffrey Birnbaum: No doubt McCain wants to run as the purer candidate, or at least the as-pure candidate -- compared to Obama. But to do so requires that he separate himself from a lot of the people who have been with his campaign even in the darkest days. Dumping a handful of those people, because of their lobbying connections, gave McCain a black eye. Then again, maybe he wants to take those lumps now so that he can be rid of those problems later -- when it counts. That's the best scenario I can come up with. No doubt, though, his main problem is that he surrounded himself with so many lobbyists to begin with, while at the same time claiming to be the chief opponent of special interests. That's a problem that will be hard to shake, no matter what his new policies are.


Washington, D.C.: I'm in my early 20's and have been a lobbyist for two years now. My question for you is if I should pack it in and get out of dodge since I'm a Republican and it looks as though Democrats will run the show here for quite some time. Are Republicans really unemployable (and vice versa) when we're not in power? Your piece in the Post today was very good but also has added to my fears about the future. Is this just how the lobbying business is? I'm outgrowing my current position and was going to begin a new job search, but not I'm not so sure I should be searching in Washington. Thank you.

Jeffrey Birnbaum: Thank you for writing in, and for reading. Do not be discouraged. That's my advice, for what it's worth. And it is worth what you are paying for it, please keep in mind. Washington is run by both parties. Sometimes one is more powerful and more prevalent than the other. But still, there are two of them. You might think about broadening your experience by going into government, probably with a Republican lawmaker, for a while. When you get out, there will probably be more opportunties -- no matter who's in charge in Congress and the White House. Lobbying is a growing business, which is a good thing for you, so I wouldn't quickly turn my back on it if I were you. There aren't many businesses that are growing lately. Hope this helps.


Los Angeles: Can Obama really win in November or would Hillary Clinton really be the right choice, just as she says?

Jeffrey Birnbaum: That question is one that I cannot answer. And will not. National polls now show Clinton/Obama vs. McCain as very close contests. That's pretty amazing in my view, given the sad state of the economy and continuing woes in Iraq (though things are improving there). What I do know is that it would be wrong to assume very much based on the polls today. It is very early, at least in the general election fight, to draw too many conclusions.


New York: The Post ran a front-page story on "inexplicable" high oil prices without once mentioning the Iraq War. Is there any firewall remaining between the Post's editorial page and its newsroom? Skyrocketing Oil Prices Stump Experts

Jeffrey Birnbaum: There is a clear separation between the news and editorial departments here.


New York: Re: McCain, why do you want to give him any benefit fo the doubt. It was about to come out that Charlie Black was a whore for the Burmese dictators (the blogs were all over it), so he suddenly resigns from the campaign.

Jeffrey Birnbaum: I may have missed it, but I do not think that Charlie Black worked for the Burmese government.


Washington, D.C.: Will the Washington Monthly be able to continue now that the deal with Common Cause has fallen through?

Jeffrey Birnbaum: Paul Glastris, the editor of the Monthly, told me he has other deals cooking. I wish him well. But I worry that unless things change the future of the Washington Monthly as we now know it could be limited.


Washington, D.C.: Will the banks be disappointed after hiring all these "D's" if more Republicans end up winning elections?

Jeffrey Birnbaum: Yes, they will. Then what they'll do is hire more R's. Right?


Baltimore: Aren't there good lobbyists too? I keep hearing about candidates who want to get rid of lobbyists. What about the good guys out there, are are there none?

Jeffrey Birnbaum: There are plenty. Lobbyists is just a bad word these days, and maybe for a long time. At least when it's used by people who know nothing and care less about Washington.


Wilmington, Del.: Why did McCain shoot himself in the foot over lobbyists? I wish he had left well enough alone.

Jeffrey Birnbaum: I think McCain had to distance himself from the many lobbyists who have been around him. It was going to be a campaign issue, certainly if Obama was the Democratic nominee, so he acted early and decisively. Damage was done, but maybe it would have been worse if the changes were made closer to the November elections.


Old Town, Va.: If Obama doesn't allow lobbyists into his White House, won't that hurt him because he'll lack Washington experience in his top ranks?

Jeffrey Birnbaum: I don't believe that Obama would ban lobbyists from his White House. They just cannot work on issues they lobbied on. But you are correct. If Obama shuns lobbyists, he could well be losing some much-needed Washington experience. Lobbyists are, after all, the people who live here and the folk ways of the town are important for any newcomer to the White House.


Chicago: I keep reading about McCain and lobbyists. Waht about Obama and lobbyists? I'm sure he has as many on the payroll.

Jeffrey Birnbaum: Don't know about on the payroll, but yes, Obama has Washington consultants and lobbyists giving him advice. I'm sure we'll see plenty of stories about that in the weeks to come.


Washington, D.C.: Who's right in the fight between food and fuel--the fight between the grocery manufacturers and ethanol companies?

Jeffrey Birnbaum: Don't think I want to take sides. I will say only that it is a big dispute that will be costly for both sides. What's hard to understand is what chance the food processors think they have in the battle. They want to prevent the government from implementing ethanol standards passed by Congress and signed by the president. Why they are bothering, I can't see. Can anyone explain that to me?


New York: Do poor people have any lobbyists directly committed to their predicaments? I'm fascinated by some of the memes out there - paying a white farmer in Kansas to sit on his butt and not plant any crops is called a "subsidy" while paying a young black mother to work hard by raising her kids at home is called "welfare" and I can't help but believe lobbying influences these memes.

Jeffrey Birnbaum: There are plenty of lobbyists for good-at-heart causes. And they have a lot of influence. But I don't think those are the kinds of lobbyists that the candidates are complaining about.


Frederick, Md.: Why are only Democrats being hired on K 'street. Aren't there Republican in Washington anymore?

Jeffrey Birnbaum: There are LOTS of Republicans in Washington. And always will be. The new hires lately have mostly been Democrats, reflecting the outlook for Democratic gains in Congress next year. But there are plenty of Republicans being hired too, just not at the same pace.


Washington, D.C.: When will Hillary get out? I guess that's the question of the day.

Jeffrey Birnbaum: That's the question of the day and the answer is, any day now. At least that's what the experts say. Some time after the primary season. That's early June. One important hurdle comes this weekend when the rules committee begins discussions, and may decide, the fate of the Florida and Michigan delegations. If those delegations are seated in a way that satisfies the Clinton camp, the end could be near. If not, the end could be far.


Washington, D.C.: Will there be more -- or less -- partying at the national conventions with the tough new rules in place?

Jeffrey Birnbaum: Less, in all probablility. But partying there will still be. That's mostly what the events are for -- other than getting free air time for the nominees.


McLean, Va.: So what is going to happen with the Washington Monthly?

Jeffrey Birnbaum: As I said before, I don't know. Unless there is a financial backer in the picture, the outlook cannot be all that rosy.


Washington, D.C.: What are you projecting on the outcome of the election in November. How many Ds will gain seats in the House and the Senate?

Jeffrey Birnbaum: This is a very rough guess. The Democrats could pick up 20 or so seats in the House and a half dozen or so seats in the Senate. But that's just a guess.


Washington: Bush has said he would veto the housing bill, but do you think he will or is that just talk?

Jeffrey Birnbaum: My guess is that the compromise between Dodd and Shelby in the Senate will help get the president off his veto threat. The problem is bad enough that he would like to himself and his party on the side of a bill that will help. Watch for a few more compromises and the president signing the legislation in the end.


Philadelphia: Why is the farm lobby so powerful and why the big giveaway this year at their request?

Jeffrey Birnbaum: Farmers are very well organized and elect people to Congress. That's the heart of their power. They also were careful this year to impose some new limits on government payments and to make sure that urban lawmakers got a lot out of the farm bill, in the form of nutrition programs. That combination has foiled President Bush's effort to rein in farm programs even more.


Jeffrey Birnbaum: Thanks everyone for writing in. Let's do it again soon. All best!


Glenville, N.Y.: Mr. Birnbaum,

You earlier offered career advice to a D.C. lobbyist. Isn't that a bit like offering sage marketing wisdom on how a tobacco company should addict the next generation of children or how al Qaeda ought to next target Americans? Lobbyists are the bitter enemy of all Americans and beholden only to their offshore bank accounts and those of their bosses.

Jeffrey Birnbaum: Maybe. But lobbying is protected by the first amendment. If someone wants to be a lobbyist, they can be, and should be. I think.


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