Sure, health care is sucking up much of the oxygen on Capitol Hill these days, but issues like tax and trade are never far away — or far from the minds of the movers and shakers on the Hill and the people who seek to influence them. Here are 10 staffers who play important roles in shaping tax and trade policies.
Pat Bousliman, professional staff, Senate Finance Committee
Birthplace: Helena, Mont.
Education: B.A., University of Montana
Bousliman began working for Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) in 1997 after serving in the Peace Corps in Tanzania. The job was expected to last a few short months but has grown into a 12-year career that shows little signs of stopping.
“I thought my stay on the Hill would be relatively short-term,— Bousliman said. “But I loved the work, and I’ve been here since.—
Bousliman worked in Baucus’ personal office for two years before joining the Finance Committee as a health care staffer. In 2006, his specialty changed to energy and transportation, where he works on issues like renewable energy tax breaks as well as the Highway Trust Fund and appropriations for aviation. He is currently focused on climate change.
“Generally, it’s climate legislation and energy tax incentives,— he said of his workload. “The climate bill is the big goal, but the tax code has become more and more important to energy policy in the last few years.—
Bousliman hopes to prepare a cap-and-trade bill before world leaders meet in Copenhagen later this fall to spell out rules for reducing carbon emissions. The meeting is expected to take place in December, but it is unclear whether Congress will approve a climate bill before then.
“I think you could view energy tax incentives to continue regardless, as a way to transition to a carbon-constrained economy,— he said.
Bousliman admits to having a few unreturned phone calls to advocacy groups, but lobbyists say he is the go-to guy on energy.
“He skillfully manages the energy tax and climate change portfolio — issues that require a thorough understanding of tax, energy policy, state interests and politics,— one lobbyist said. “No one understands how all this comes together better than Pat.—
However, those calling on Bousliman better bring ideas for how to pay for their incentives.
“Given the fiscal situation, I think people are going to have to be creative about offsetting the costs of their proposals,— he said. “There are a lot of great ideas for energy tax incentives out there, but finding ways to pay for them is increasingly challenging.—
John Buckley, Democratic chief tax counsel, House Ways and Means Committee
Birthplace: Hartford, Wis.
Education: J.D., University of Wisconsin; attended Notre Dame University (no degree)
“His knowledge of the intricacies of the tax code is pretty much unparalleled,— one longtime tax lobbyist said.
Added another veteran tax lobbyist said: “He’s the brightest of the crowd. He’s got a very good command of the subject matter, better than anybody else up there, which in tax is a huge advantage.—
Buckley has served as chief counsel on Ways and Means since 2007 and has been on the committee since 1995. He started on the Hill in 1973 for the legislative counsel’s office.
He and his staff regularly meet with executives from tax departments, lobbyists, representatives of foreign governments and numerous interest groups.
“One of the privileges of the job is having the opportunity to meet all those people,— Buckley said. “You get to meet people who are interested in how the process works.—
But Buckley said he always keeps in mind that he works for the Members, whom he called the clients.
“You are here to help them implement their policy decisions, and they’re quite knowledgeable about the impact on the citizens,— he said.
Michael Castellano, counsel and senior policy adviser to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.)
Education: B.A., Johns Hopkins University; J.D., Harvard Law School; M.A.L.D., Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy
“If I want to find out what’s going on up there on trade, I usually call him,— one lobbyist said. “That doesn’t mean he always tells me, but he’s the first person I think of in many cases.—
After graduating magna cum laude from Harvard Law School, Castellano received a master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy that focused in part on international trade and commercial policy.
After a stint with the law firm of Dewey Ballantine as an associate on U.S. international trade law, he joined the House Ways and Means Committee as Democratic trade counsel and as trade and tax counsel for Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich) when he was ranking member of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade. It was dual appointment that came about purely by accident.
“They had somebody else in mind, but that person fell through and I ended up getting the job offer,— Castellano said.
He is now counsel and senior policy adviser to Reid, handling trade, international economics, intellectual property rights and other trade-related issues.
“The biggest thing that is moving forward is trade aspects of climate change,— Castellano said. “In the Senate, we haven’t dealt with it much because we haven’t gotten that far along on climate change. But it is moving pretty rapidly right now.—
Castellano also expects a major trade speech from President Barack Obama after Congress approves legislation reforming the health care system. The speech is expected to outline how pending free-trade agreements with Panama and Colombia can earn the administration’s support.
“I think none of those [agreements] will move forward before the big speech,— Castellano said. “It will give folks on the right and the left a sense of how everything fits together.—
When contacting Castellano, lobbyists should be fully prepared to field questions that go beyond the talking points.
“We see quite a bit, someone who doesn’t know [much] beyond their one-pager,— Castellano said. “They need to know what arguments the other side has and be able to present a rebuttal to it. Also, know who your allies are and who your enemies are on and off the Hill. Some should have this ready and be able to discuss it. Otherwise, [their position] is just not as effective.—
Amber Cottle, chief international trade counsel, Senate Finance Committee
Birthplace: St. Louis
Education: B.A. in political science, St. Louis University; J.D., University of Chicago
Cottle joined the Senate Finance Committee as international trade counsel in 2007 and brought with her nearly a decade’s worth of experience in international trade law that included a stint as deputy assistant for the U.S. trade representative.
At the USTR, she served as the chief investment negotiator for the Korea, Thailand, Morocco and Oman free-trade agreements and supervised the negotiation of the investment provisions of several other FTAs and bilateral investment treaties. She joined Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus’ (D-Mont.) staff to better understand the politics of trade, which is likely to surface after the Senate takes up climate change.
“What Sen. Baucus sees as our biggest challenge is rebuilding the bipartisan trade consensus, which has badly eroded over the last couple of years,— she said.
Cottle is also focused on less divisive trade issues, like customs and preferences. But with the environment a priority for the Obama administration, trade aspects of the climate change bill will definitely be a part of her fall agenda.
“It is taking up a majority of our time right now,— Cottle said.
Lobbyists should note that Cottle has an open-door policy when it comes to presenting their positions to her.
“We get contacted in a variety of ways,— she said. “I don’t really have a preferred method of approach. But it’s always good when people come prepared and informed. And our open-door policy applies to everyone — starting with Montana constituents.—
Angela Ellard, Republican chief trade counsel, House Ways and Means Committee
Education: B.A. in political science, Newcomb College Institute of Tulane University; M.A. in public policy and J.D., Tulane University
Ellard, who calls New Orleans home, has worked trade issues as a Congressional staffer and as a lawyer-lobbyist at two tony firms. Her first Washington, D.C., job after graduating from law school was with Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, where she specialized in trade litigation and policy.
She made the move to Capitol Hill in 1995 as trade counsel for the Ways and Means Committee and hasn’t looked back.
Now she runs the committee’s GOP staff.
“Angela combines the insight of a trade wonk and the marketing prowess of a Peggy Olson,— said a lobbyist, referring to a career-woman character from the TV show “Mad Men.— “Angela’s got a great instinct for what issues are going to have broad commercial implications.—
Despite the increasingly partisan nature of some trade issues, especially pacts with countries like Colombia, Ellard said Democrats and Republicans cooperate on much of the committee’s portfolio.
“You can’t do things on strict party lines on trade,— Ellard said. “It makes us much more relevant than some other areas.—
She added that a huge focus for the Republican side is to get the stalled trade agreements moving.
As for working with outside interests, Ellard said she keeps an open door.
“We make it a point of trying to hear both sides, and sometimes there are more than two sides,— she said.
In addition to hearing all sides, Ellard tries to see firsthand the effect of U.S. policies. She has traveled on official business to Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Kimberly Ellis, legislative director for Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas)
Birthplace: Chattanooga, Tenn.
Education: B.A. in history, Vanderbilt University
Ellis works in Brady’s personal office, where she handles her boss’s trade portfolio. And since he’s the ranking member on the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade, Ellis is especially plugged in on the subject.
“He gets to engage in trade so much more, which is exciting,— Ellis said of her boss’s role. “His district is fairly close to the port of Houston, so the importance of trade to Texas is huge.—
Ellis’ first job in Washington, D.C., was for the conservative Heritage Foundation focusing on international trade, and then she joined the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative during the Bush administration. In 2006, she left USTR for Brady’s staff.
She also handles agriculture, transportation and foreign affairs issues for the Congressman.
Ellis said her boss has not given up on the pending trade pacts with Colombia, Panama and Korea. “We think these agreements are very important for the economy, for our economic recovery,— she said.
Her boss is part of several pro-trade caucuses, including the Friends of New Zealand Congressional Caucus, for which he is a co-chairman.
Ellis said she has a good dialogue with private-sector and business representatives. “We often meet with them to get their input,— she said. “It’s a very important part of what we do.—
With all the partisan wrangling over trade pacts, Ellis said it can sometimes be discouraging, especially being in the minority party.
“It can be frustrating because it’s hard to measure success and have a clear result,— she said. “You just try to think of other ways to engage and do things to support your goals.—
Cathy Koch, chief tax counsel, Senate Finance Committee
Birthplace: Trenton, N.J.
Education: B.A., University of Pennsylvania-Millersville; Ph.D. in economics, Georgetown University
After graduating from Georgetown University, Koch promptly joined the Joint Committee on Taxation. Subsequently, she served as senior tax policy adviser and staff director for Senate Finance Subcommittee on Energy, Natural Resources and Infrastructure Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) before enlisting with the full committee. Last December she was named tax chief for Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.).
“In a relatively short time on the committee staff, Cathy’s talents have made her an indispensable part of the tax-writing process,— one lobbyist said. “Her personal skills have allowed her to interact well with Members, key administration officials and other committee staff, while remaining a strong advocate for her positions.—
Koch predicts the estate tax will be debated after Congress approves health care reform but expects another issue to dominate discussions on Capitol Hill.
“Climate change is another big issue that we’ve been working on, another all-encompassing, big bill that affects a huge swath of the economy, and those kinds of projects are fun,— she said. “Of course the estate tax, not as broad in scope, is an issue that we have to take care of this year. And, of course, as we address these immediate issues, we are always studying tax reform — an issue we began looking at through a series of hearings last year and will continue to prepare for.—
Koch’s immediate focus on climate change includes transition relief for companies entering a carbon-restricted economy and ensuring that households don’t feel the full financial brunt of increased utility bills after the legislation is enacted.
She also welcomes advocates of any stripe to discuss tax issues with her.
“It’s our responsibility to meet with taxpayers and constituents, and that is the bottom line,— she said. “When people have issues, we meet with them. That’s our job.—
Mark Prater, Republican deputy staff director and chief tax counsel, Senate Finance Committee
Birthplace: Portland, Ore.
Education: B.A., Portland State University; J.D., Willamette University; M.L., University of Florida
Prater began his career on Capitol Hill almost 20 years ago as a committee staffer for then-Sen. Bob Packwood (R-Ore.) when he was ranking member of the Finance Committee.
In addition to having a law degree, he is also a certified public accountant, and much of his professional life has been focused on taxes.
“I’ve been a tax person basically my whole adult life,— Prater said.
In 1994, Prater was promoted to chief tax counsel under Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and has been considered Grassley’s point person on tax policy ever since. After the conclusion of the health care reform debate, Prater predicts the estate tax will capture the attention of lawmakers as some Members seek to stop the tax from being fully repealed next year.
“We perceive that there is a lot of interest in trying to come up with permanent estate-gift policy,— Prater said.
Lobbyists approaching Prater should know that he “appreciates as much transparency and completeness— as possible, whether it’s about the estate tax or another tax issue. In other words, be honest or your chances for winning him over could be diminished.
“It doesn’t happen all the time, but it does occur, and it’s not helpful to the advocates of the cause,— he said. “It’s kind of a declaration against interests, but staffers tend to find these things out one way or the other and it’s always better to tell people up front.—
Viji Rangaswami, staff director, House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade
Birthplace: Louisville, Ky.
Education: B.A. in political science and J.D., Duke University
Rangaswami gets high marks from the lobbyists who have worked with her, but she cuts a low profile when it comes to the press: She declined to be interviewed for this profile.
Even so, she is a well-known commodity with the downtown community.
“Viji is a rare staffer who has the confidence of both the business community and labor and the [nongovernmental organizations],— one trade-focused lobbyist said. “The business community wishes there were more people like her on the Hill.—
The lobbyist said Rangaswami wants to move the ball forward on the U.S. trade agenda — an area where three pending agreements with Korea, Panama and Colombia have remained stalled.
“Viji wants trade legislation to move,— the lobbyist said. “She’s genuinely interested in solutions that will work in the real world.—
Another lobbyist, a veteran tax and trade advocate, said Rangaswami commands respect on the Hill and off.
“I’ve been quite impressed with her,— said this second lobbyist, who added that Rangaswami has clear command of the issues before her committee.
Arshi Siddiqui, senior policy adviser and counsel to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)
Birthplace: Davis, Calif.
Education: B.S. in economics and political science, University of California-Davis; J.D., Georgetown University
“She gets a ton of pressure put on her because everybody feels they’ve gotten some promise from the Speaker,— said a tax lobbyist who has worked with her. “She’s the one who has to dismantle all those promises.—
Siddiqui explained: “If I’m doing my job, everybody’s a little unhappy.—
Still, it’s a dream job. Siddiqui attended law school in Washington, D.C., because she wanted to work on the Hill.
Six years ago, when Pelosi was staffing up her leadership office, Siddiqui was brought on board. Before joining the Speaker’s operation, she worked for Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) and lobbied at Williams & Jensen.
“I’ve been doing the same issues from different vantage points,— she said.
She tries to incorporate those different perspectives when advising the Speaker on policy matters.
“It’s always a challenge given the pace up here, but I try to meet with anybody who requests a meeting,— she said. “Otherwise it’s really easy to get in a bubble in this job. … And the downside of a bubble is that you’re less able to spot problems before they happen. So knowing how so much of this town is integrated, that helps.—
Another lobbyist who has worked with her said Siddiqui strikes a balance among the competing interests.
“Arshi can be a valuable, honest broker,— this lobbyist said. “But she’s not shy about enforcing the Speaker’s will, either.—