Small Print Can Be Good for Business
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, October 22, 1999; Page A1
There isn't a single mention of Gulfstream aircraft in the $267.8 billion defense bill passed by Congress last week, but that doesn't mean the leading manufacturer of long-distance business jets hasn't fared well in the hectic finale to the writing of the year's spending bills on Capitol Hill.
Leaving hardly a fingerprint, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) saw to it that the final House-Senate agreement contained a potential boon for Gulfstream: a $15 million item for research on "supersonic aircraft noise mitigation." Stevens, according to sources, expects the Pentagon to use the money for research that Gulfstream and partner Lockheed Martin Corp. can use to develop a supersonic business jet with commercial potential in the next century.
Such provisions are among the dozens of windfalls for business salted into annual appropriations bills that have been enacted, or await final congressional approval, to fund the operations of government this fiscal year.
While attention has focused on clashes between President Clinton and the Republican-controlled Congress over the amount of spending in the bills, Republican and Democratic lawmakers have quietly given their bipartisan blessing to assorted plums for auto companies, defense contractors, utilities, cotton farmers, shipbuilders, chemical companies and even a West Virginia business that sells armor-piercing ammunition. Among the benefits are funds earmarked for home-state companies – "add-ons" that could increase spending even as Congress seeks new budget cuts. There are also special provisions giving industries relief from environmental and consumer protection laws.
"I don't think there's any doubt that a number of these bills have passed because the very same business community that lobbies for fiscal constraint comes in and demands to be first at the trough," said Rep. David R. Obey (Wis.), the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee.
The chaotic windup to the annual appropriations process, in which only six of 13 bills have been signed so far, appears to have provided unusual opportunities for corporate lobbyists to leave their imprint. While Democrats have supported some of the moves, it is the Republican majority that has had greater leverage to exert its influence:
Several bankrupt cellular phone companies, including one in the congressional district of House Majority Leader Richard K. Armey (R-Tex.), staved off language that would have forced the companies to relinquish their wireless licenses.
Energy companies, aided by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.), got a delay in a requirement that they report the quality of oil pumped from federal lands. Environmental groups claim the postponement will cost the government $33 million in lost revenue.
Legislation funding the Environmental Protection Agency contains language that would ease requirements to disclose information about the release of toxic chemicals. The wording is virtually identical to sections of a white paper prepared by a lobbyist for a coalition that includes the Chemical Manufacturers Association and the American Petroleum Institute.
Tobacco-state Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky.), chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees the Federal Trade Commission, made sure that new health labeling standards for cigar packages will be uniform, so that companies don't have to comply with varying standards state by state.
Republican Richard C. Shelby, who hails from the peanut-growing state of Alabama, used his power as chairman of the transportation subcommittee of Senate Appropriations to delay implementation of a "peanut-free zone" on airplanes until a scientific study confirmed that "very small airborne peanut particles" could prompt severe allergic reactions.
No bill produced more business pressures than the measure financing the Pentagon. Congress added $4.4 billion to President Clinton's request for procurement, research and development – much of which goes directly to contractors. At the same time it cut his funding request for military pay and operational readiness.
Stevens has been a key force shaping the bills as chairman of both the Senate Appropriations Committee and its defense subcommittee. Last June, Stevens inserted $20 million for "supersonic noise reduction" into the defense spending bill on the Senate floor as part of a package of amendments added without debate.
Sweetening the package were projects for Senate Democrats, such as composite materials research at the University of Delaware for Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.) and $2.8 million for a "K-Band Test Obscuration Pairing System" for Harry M. Reid (Nev.).
Stevens, according to sources, had been approached about funding noise reduction research by Lockheed Martin and Gulfstream Aerospace Corp. after NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin advised the companies his agency did not have the resources to collaborate on the research.
Gulfstream, which merged with General Dynamics Corp. in July, had been studying the feasibility of a supersonic business jet at Lockheed Martin's California "Skunk Works," but the project will fly only if problems related to sonic boom can be solved, sources said.
Stevens, whose Northern Lights political action committee received $6,000 in contributions from Gulfstream's PAC in 1998 and 1999, was interested. In a brief interview this week, Stevens indicated he supported the research because of its broad potential to advance knowledge of supersonic technology. He said the funds weren't intended to benefit a particular company.
Once the item was in the Senate bill, company lobbyists made the rounds of Capitol Hill, securing support from Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, and ranking Democrat John P. Murtha (Pa.).
"That's something we need to spend some money on," said Murtha, one of the top appropriators who settled on the final $15 million figure in private talks. Lewis, who battled Lockheed Martin on funding for the F-22 fighter plane, said in this case the research could help "America be competitive in the high-speed aircraft arena."
The funding was never debated on the floor of either chamber or reviewed by defense committees. The Pentagon will have to fund the research out of its overall research budget.
Stevens also backed another provision containing another potential windfall for Gulfstream. The provision authorizes the Air Force to lease six executive jets for regional commanders-in-chief, rather than purchasing the planes over a number of years.
That could result in the leasing of as many as five Gulfstream V jets – more than could be purchased in a single year with the same funding. Murtha argued that it would double the ultimate cost. "I believe it is a mistake," he said. Leasing the craft could cost about $8 million a year, compared with a purchase price of around $30 million.
Other potential beneficiaries are Boeing Co., which is marketing a version of its 737 to the military, and the airplane leasing division of General Electric Co.
"It's a national security issue for me," Stevens said. "I want them to have the top planes available, and new planes, as quickly as possible."
© 1999 The Washington Post Company