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Tax Overhaul, Regulatory Rollbacks Fuel K Street Lobbyists

Lobbying expenditures expected to increase in 2017

Lobbyists say the top policy matters for this year include dismantling the 2010 health care law and the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Lobbyists say the top policy matters for this year include dismantling the 2010 health care law and the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Debates over health care, tax policy and government spending fueled the biggest spenders on K Street in 2016, as groups now ramp up their lobbying on rolling back regulations from the Obama era and on a major tax overhaul during the Trump administration.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its affiliated Institute for Legal Reform spent more than $100 million last year seeking to influence numerous policy debates on trade, taxes, health care, labor and environmental regulations, according to lobbying disclosures filed by Monday night with Congress. It was an uptick from the chamber’s 2015 spending of $85 million and is a reflection that the group, unlike most on K Street, includes its political and grass-roots work on federal lobbying reports.

The chamber’s lobbying activity last year “is a reflection of our successful voter education efforts in key Senate battleground states to help elect pro-growth candidates,” said Blair Latoff Holmes, a spokeswoman for the group. The chamber backed such candidates as Republican Sens. Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania and Rob Portman of Ohio, who won new terms last November.

Many of the city’s biggest lobbying shops and some of the largest organizations and companies reported less money spent last year amid congressional stalemate and election-year inaction. K Street insiders, however, say they expect 2017 to rival 2009 and 2010, when President Barack Obama was in office with a Democratic majority in Congress.

President Donald Trump’s election, along with the full GOP control of Congress, has prompted business interests to build ties to the new administration and align their policy positions to the new order, in hopes of benefiting from coming legislation and executive branch actions.

It’s also been a time of high anxiety for certain companies and sectors, as Trump has criticized some for moving jobs offshore and for charging taxpayers too much money in federal contracts.

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One of those companies, Boeing, reported spending more than $17 million on federal lobbying in 2016, a decline from 2015 when it disclosed shelling out $21.9 million amid debate over the Export-Import Bank’s future. On Dec. 6, Trump tweeted that “Boeing is building a brand new 747 Air Force One for future presidents, but costs are out of control.” He has since met with the company’s chief executive.

Lobbyists say the top policy matters for this year include dismantling Obama’s health care law and the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul, and passing a mega tax bill and an infrastructure measure that Trump, some of his fellow Republicans and congressional Democrats say they want.

“We’ve been working on tax reform for years,” said Kathryn Lehman, a GOP lobbyist with Holland & Knight. Lawmakers, she added, have been setting out the contours of a broad overhaul. “The frameworks, to some extent, are there,” she said. “But how does President Trump change those things? … It creates a different dynamic because you don’t necessarily know what they’re going to do.”

Business clients are also seeking to influence the Trump administration’s wind-down of labor, energy and environmental regulations. And many say they want Congress to weigh in with its stamp of approval.

“Passing deregulatory reforms with bipartisan support is important,” said Sam Geduldig, a Republican lobbyist with the CGCN Group. “We’ve seen how ineffective executive orders are.”

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