New presidential lobbying methods being perfected by the Reagan White House were concentrated on Rep. Butler Derrick, a moderately conservative Democrat from South Carolina, two weeks before the budget vote.
"Derrick is still squishy," said an internal White House memo, but added: ". . . we'll get him in the end because a lot of the local big-money people are after him." Whether or not big bucks were responsible, the White House call proved accurate; Derrick backed the president.
The budget drive reflects new vistas in congressional lobbying opened by Ronald Reagan's operatives. Derrick was one of dozens of Democratic House members whose desires, needs and weaknesses were scrutinized to put the president's budget over the top. Significantly, it was conducted not by regular White House lobbyists under Max Friedersdorf but by Lyn Nofziger's political office.
Nofzigerhs operation represents a drastic departure from President Eisenhower's quite efforts a generation ago trying to coax Democratic votes out of Speaker Rayburn. Now, Reagan bypasses Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill while hardnosed operatives hunt down individual Democratic congressmen.
Nofziger's operation represents a drastic departure from President Eisenhower's quite efforts a generation ago trying to coax Democratic votes out of Speaker Rayburn. Now, Reagan bypasses Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill while hardnoed operatives hunt down individual Democratic congressmen.
The technique used by Nofziger's office, begun on the early ceiling and dairy price support votes, was perfected for the May 7 budget vote and will be expanded for the tax cut showdown. It combines pressure from individual campaign contributors with heat from national political action committees, carefully generated letter-writing campaigns and local media attention stirred by visiting Republican celebrities. (code-named the "Souther Blitz").
Add personal attention to the peculiarities of individual Democratic congressmen, and the presidents men were confident of an easy victory long before they admitted it. On April 27, Nofziger received this forecast from his southern lieutenant, Lee Atwater: "I now can predict with confidence that not only will Gramm-Latta pass, but it will win by a comfortable margin."
Atwater directed the concentration on local districts ("hitting them on the home front") as the third and final phase following White House leverage and lobbying from outside groups. The day before Reagan's celebrated April 28 speech to Congress, Atwater told Nofziger the president's effort "will be just icing on the cake because . . . the local media did our job."
Behind media help, however, was member-by-member scrutiny. Based on confidential White House memos, here are some cases of how the budget was won:
Rep. Ronnie Flippo was regarded by Nofziger's office as the "toughest" Alabama Democrat before pro-Reagan Democratic Gov. Fob James came to the rescue. The goveror's office informed the White House "james has 'persuaded'Flippo to vote for the president."
Rep. Dan Mica, a second-term Democrat facing Florida congressional redistricting, was listed as "especially soft" by Nofziger's office. "Mica is concered about redistricting, and he's said we can have his vote on both the budget and tax cut if we go along with the remap he's drawn for his district." (Mica, who backed the Reagan budget, told us he never discussed congressional remapping with Reagan aides.)
The veteran conservative Democratic chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Jamie Whitten of Mississippi, had a different desire, according to Nofziger's office: "Whitten will vote with us only if we agree to his timetable on Appropriations Committee legislation." The White House labeled those demands "outrageous," and Whitten was the only member of his state's delegation to oppose the Reagan budget.
Rep. Bill Nelson of Florida, a conservative who voted against Reagan inside the Budget Committee, was counted by Nofziger's men on their side long before the May 7 vote: "Nelson totally caved in after we applied the pressure. . . . Nelson can't take pressure, and we should keep this in mind in the future."
How many times can personal and media pressure be mixed with political favors? ReaganS political operatives consider the budget fight just the beginning. In that battle, they did not even consider employing the ultimate lobbying weapon: Ronald Reagan, the Great Communicator, personally addressing the individual Democratic congressman over television in his home district.