K Street’s favorite parlor game is in full swing.
Every election season, lobbyists spend weeks analyzing the possible outcomes of House and Senate elections, zeroing in on the handful of lawmakers who are expected to make moves on key congressional committees — either leading them or leaving one to lead another — which helps set the tone for lobbying strategy in the new Congress. Stacks of analyses are written up; decision trees are sketched out; clients are talked off the ledge.
This year, all eyes are on Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.).
“After Tuesday, watch [Schumer] but also watch Patty Murray because she makes news by moving or standing still,” said Erick Mullen, a former aide for Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) who now works at the lobby and public affairs firm Mercury.
Murray, who is currently ranking member on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), could chair the committee if Democrats retake the Senate. Or she could move to Appropriations, which could mean liberal favorite Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) could chair HELP — that is, if he doesn’t chair the Budget Committee. Murray could also challenge Dick Durbin (D-IL) for the whip job.
In other words, as one downtowner put it, Murray is “the sleeping giant.”
“She is standing between Durbin and an uncontested leadership race, between [Dianne Feinstein] and the Appropriations chair and between corporate America and Bernie Sanders as HELP chairman,” Mullen said.
The game, of course, relies heavily on informed speculation — and the best result depends on the lens through which you’re looking.
Tech companies, for instance, will be watching for potential leadership changes on the Senate Judiciary Committee because it has jurisdiction over patent reform and intellectual property protection, two areas that the tech sector has been lobbying to influence for years. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is the current ranking member and would rise to chair if Democrats win the majority, but he could instead choose to chair Appropriations.
The Senate Judiciary antitrust subcommittee is also important to watch because it will scrutinize large mergers — for example, it recently scheduled a Dec. 7 hearing on the proposed $85 billion tie-up between AT&T and Time Warner.
“What we’ve been doing the last month or so is spending time with clients, helping them understand each of the ‘if-then’ scenarios and helping them understand the implications for their particular area of interest,” said Ilisa Halpern Paul, a healthcare lobbyist who frequently lobbies HELP, the Senate Finance Committee and Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee.