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K Street Files: Longtime Hill Staffer Transported to K Street

After spending nearly three decades as a Congressional aide, Rusty Roberts is making the jump to K Street. On Friday, he left his job as chief of staff to Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and today he starts a new gig as managing director of the transportation practice at BGR Government Affairs.

“No, it’s not much of a vacation,” Roberts admitted. “It’s called hitting the ground running.”

Roberts, who served as chief of staff to Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) from 1989 to 1993, told the Congresswoman when he started that he would only stay in D.C. for five years before returning to Miami. Then he signed on with Mica in 1993 and still hasn’t made that move back to the Magic City.

He said he was in talks with BGR for months and also talked with other potential employers, including lobby firms and corporate government affairs offices.

“The idea of moving on has been percolating up in my mind,” Roberts said, adding that he went with BGR because “I felt their business model was more in tune with the way I like to operate, and I had a really good feeling about everybody there.”

BGR principal and spokesman Loren Monroe said the firm recruited Roberts because of his “sterling reputation in Washington and Florida for his thoughtful policy and political expertise.” Monroe added that the new lobbyist, with his background in infrastructure and energy issues, “will greatly enhance BGR’s transportation practice.”

(Disclosure: Roll Call Deputy Editor Erin Billings has announced she will join BGR Public Relations next month.)

A Mayor With a Cause 

Some lobbyists and public officials try to win over their opponents with honey. But Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter is taking the more salty approach as he makes the rounds on Capitol Hill to press lawmakers to reject steep spending cuts approved by the House.

“H.R. 1, from my perspective, is literally an attack on American citizens,” said Nutter, referring to the spending bill for the remainder of this fiscal year approved by the House last month.

Nutter, a Democrat who is vice president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, was in Washington, D.C., last week meeting with Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii).

The mayors are particularly upset with the House budget plan because it would slash spending for the Community Development Block Grant program by 62.5 percent. The grant program, which began in 1974, provides funding to cities and large urban areas for community development and anti-poverty programs. The president had requested $4 billion for this fiscal year.

Nutter said many new Members of Congress who campaigned last year on a platform of fiscal restraint may not be aware that they have walked streets that have been repaired with CDBG funds.

He has little patience with the rhetoric from candidates made in the heat of the campaign.

“The campaign is over,” he said. “Now is the time to govern.”

Despite the setback in the House, Nutter said, he was reassured in his meeting with Inouye that the powerful Senator is supportive of the CDBG program. And even though the session might have amounted to preaching to the choir, Nutter said, “Even the choir likes a good sermon as reaffirmation.”

The mayor said he also had conversations with home-state Sen. Bob Casey (D), who supports the grants. Nutter is planning to talk to Pennsylvania’s junior Senator, Pat Toomey, a Republican who ran last year on a fiscally conservative platform.

Nutter said lawmakers need to look elsewhere for savings, such as duplications in federal programs and the defense budget. He was also highly critical of lawmakers for lurching from one short-term budget patch to the next.

“No business enterprise would do what these folks have done,” he said.

How Low Can You Go?

When the advocacy arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation announced late last week that it was launching a legislative scorecard to grade lawmakers’ votes, liberal Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) immediately tried to figure out how he could get the lowest score of all.

So his office inquired: Could Jackson attain a negative score? You know, minus 30 or something, like the winters in Chicago.

“When it comes to the Heritage Foundation, zero isn’t good enough for us,” explained Andrew Wilson, the Congressman’s director of communications. “In Congressman Jackson’s district, a low rating from the Heritage Foundation is a badge of honor. … We figure that if they want to really rank who is the ‘best’ and ‘worst’ on their priorities then we should get extra credit for going above and beyond the call of duty.”

It turns out that Heritage Action for America just might be willing to accommodate the Member’s unusual request.

“We certainly hadn’t contemplated negative scores, but I won’t rule out adding a special category so folks can get a negative score,” spokesman Dan Holler said.

Heritage announced its first “key vote” is on the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results Act, which would provide vouchers to low-income students in D.C. The measure passed the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee last week and is heading to a full House vote. Voting with Heritage means voting for the bill. Not surprisingly, Jackson isn’t likely to vote with Heritage.

“School vouchers take the resources of the many for the benefit of a few. I anticipate that the Congressman will vote ‘no’ if it comes up for a vote before the House, making us one for one with Heritage,” Wilson said.

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