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Budget Issues Dominate K Street’s Work

The release of President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2012 budget request Monday was a call to arms on K Street, where lobbying for a piece of the federal budget is a priority for clients.

The budget and appropriations ranked as the No. 1 issue in 2010 — by a very large measure — for companies, associations and firms that lobbied the federal government, according to disclosure forms filed with Congress.

Last year, there were 22,125 issue filings related to budget matters, which amounted to almost a quarter of all lobbying reports. The next highest issue listed was health care, which had 12,455 filings, followed by tax issues, with 10,903 filings, and defense, with 8,648. The 2010 disclosure forms included 80 issues from which those lobbying the federal government could choose.

Although budget issues have ranked as No. 1 for more than a decade, the lobbying pressure is expected to grow even more intense this year in response to the White House’s budget request, which proposes reducing the deficit by $1.1 trillion over the next decade, and to House Republicans who are seeking deep spending cuts.

Lobbyists note that budget issues encompass a wide range of areas that touch most parties with interests in federal policy. “Almost every issue has a budget implication,” said John Feehery, who heads the government affairs practice at Quinn Gillespie & Associates.

Feehery, a former GOP Congressional aide, will try to fend off cuts by his fellow Republicans this year. One of his clients is the Association of Public Television Stations, and House Republicans have proposed eliminating spending on public broadcasting in their spending bill for the remainder of fiscal 2011. In Obama’s budget for fiscal 2012, the president would retain general public broadcasting funds but cut a $20 million Commerce Department fund that helps defray the cost for broadcasting equipment.

Feehery noted the irony of his role as a lobbyist for public broadcasting spending: He wrote a speech recommending the killing of such funding in 1995 as a communications staffer to the House Majority Whip at the time, Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas).

But today he has a different point of view. “I have a child now,” Feehery said, and public television offers a “safe harbor for kids.” 

In terms of convincing a freshman Congressional class intent on slashing the budget, Feehery said the key will be mobilizing grass-roots interest in the districts.

He said lobbyists cannot simply walk into a Member’s office and ask to retain a program. “That dog won’t hunt,” he said. “You have to make the case back home why a program should stick around.”

The Coalition on Human Needs, which advocates for programs for low-income people, is taking a similar approach. Deborah Weinstein, executive director of the coalition, said the group will invite Members of Congress to visit social service agencies in their districts whose work in areas such as health care, affordable housing and energy assistance will be hurt by the proposed cuts.

The group, which includes service providers, labor leaders and clergy, has launched a campaign called SAVE for All, which is short for Strengthening America’s Values and Economy for All. She said the group will hold community forums and schedule visits with Members of Congress, particularly in the Senate, where the group hopes the Democratic majority will block many of the cuts.

Weinstein was particularly critical of the House Republicans’ spending cuts, which she called “reckless and irresponsible.” She said that although the president’s budget blueprint had some good things, such as restoring funding for food stamps, it also includes some “regrettable cuts that will undermine his own plans for economic growth.”

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