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K Street Files: Specter’s Bluff?

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is scoffing at a new pledge by Republican-turned-Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.) to pass a “card check— compromise by year’s end.

[IMGCAP(1)]The embattled lawmaker, according to the Associated Press, told union members at a rally in Pittsburgh on Tuesday that Senate negotiators have “pounded out an employees’ choice bill which will meet labor’s objective— and that the compromise bill will reach President Barack Obama’s desk by Jan. 1.

The Iron City this week is hosting the 26th AFL-CIO constitutional convention. Specter’s red meat to labor comes as the former GOPer faces fierce primary competition from Rep. Joe Sestak (D), who’s looking to capitalize on the Keystone State’s increasingly left-leaning electorate.

Following Specter’s promise at the rally, the nation’s largest business group said it doubts other Senate moderates, including Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), are on board with the yet-to-be-introduced compromise legislation. Lincoln faces re-election this cycle in the home state of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the un-unionized mega-retailer.

“What matters is not whether the AFL-CIO has cut a new backroom deal on the bill, it is whether it can be sold to Senate moderates who are worried about saving jobs, especially their own,— said Steven Law, a chamber lawyer, in a statement on Tuesday.

Iraqis Score New Digs. The Kurdistan Regional Government is upgrading its Washington, D.C., outpost. The country’s Washington representative Qubad Talabani, son of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, is throwing a party Thursday to inaugurate its space on 16th Street Northwest.

“Our new headquarters is the symbolic foundation of our respect and determination to be a fully engaged, reliable partner of the United States in making our region of the world safe, prosperous and a place where democracy can thrive,— Talabani said in a statement. “We look to our mission to be a center of learning for both Americans and those from the Kurdistan Region of Iraq — we [are] learning more to help us along our path to democracy, while Americans and other visitors get to know Kurdistan as it truly is.—

Qubad Talabani, who has been KRG’s U.S. liaison for the past two years, already has plenty of outside hired guns to help him out, including Qorvis Communications and TS Navigations.

Qorvis, which reupped its contract with the country in June, has a one-year, $480,000 deal to do “strategic communications, internet consulting, media relations support, [and] writing/editing documents,— according to Foreign Agent Registration Act reports.

TS Navigations also inked its deal with KRG in June, agreeing to a one-year, $86,000 contract. The firm will be helping the country with “meetings, conversations, memos, analysis summations, brainstorming sessions, writing, research,— according to its FARA filing.

Cassidy & Associates just finished a short-term contract with KRG. The lobby shop was on a three-month, $50,000 contract to do outreach to Congress to promote visits to Kurdistan. Cassidy & Associates’ Tom Alexander said the firm expects to continue doing work for KRG through the end of the year.

AHIP’s Senior Moment. America’s Health Insurance Plans is playing the senior card in an attempt to stave off large-scale cuts to the Medicare Advantage program. AHIP released a study Tuesday showing that the 11 million seniors enrolled in the program spend fewer days in the hospital and were less likely to end up in the hospital for such conditions as diabetes.

AHIP plans to use the study to bolster its lobbying message that while it can live with some cuts to the program, current proposals go too far. It is also reaching out to seniors and doctors to mobilize them to contact Members of Congress on the issues.

“The study will have an impact because policymakers will surely be concerned about displacing seniors from a program that has a significant impact on their health and quality of life,— said Michael Tuffin, AHIP’s executive vice president. “In the proposals in both houses of Congress, we’re seeing excessively deep cuts that would lead to higher premiums and in many cases a loss of the option of a Medicare Advantage plan altogether.—

Medicare Advantage, which is administered by many AHIP member companies, provides supplemental insurance to seniors on Medicare.

John Rother, executive vice president of policy and strategy at seniors lobby AARP, said in a statement that AHIP’s analysis “reinforces the need for better follow-up care in traditional Medicare.— He added: “We’re pleased that some insurers are providing these important services to their members. AARP believes that those Medicare Advantage plans that deliver high-quality care should receive bonus payments. … We believe this study underscores the fact that private plans in Medicare can achieve savings without relying on billions in excess government payments.—

AHIP’s Tuffin said that if seniors lose their Medicare Advantage, it’s possible their medical bills could actually go up.

“It’s reasonable to suggest that if this program is pulled out from under seniors, the quality of care suffers, and we know ultimately costs go up,— he said.

K Street Moves. The U.S. Grains Council is bringing on Thomas Dorr to serve as its president and CEO. The former Department of Agriculture undersecretary for rural development will formally assume the role on Nov. 16. Dorr, an Iowa farmer for three decades, is replacing Ken Hobbie, who led the group for 18 years. Kelly Kincannon of recruiting firm Kincannon & Reed did the search.

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