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Health Care, Tax Overhauls Drive Lobbying in Trump Era

“We’re feeling really confident going into the second half of the year”

During the turbulent first six months of the Trump administration, some of the biggest lobbying groups scaled back their spending as his signature initiatives collapsed. But major agenda items, including a tax overhaul, will continue to fuel K Street work.

Other wish-list items in the coming months will include a measure to raise the nation’s debt limit, funding the government for fiscal 2018, and continued negotiations about shoring up the nation’s health care system, even as Republican efforts to dismantle the 2010 health care law have cratered.

“In terms of the business, we’re feeling really confident going into the second half of the year,” said Elizabeth Gore, who heads the lobbying practice for Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck. Her firm’s revenue is up this year after a dip during 2016 when the elections kept Congress from taking up much legislation.

“The debt ceiling and appropriations bills have the potential to be a magnet for other policy issues,” Gore added. “You could certainly envision a number of riders or policy add-ons to those legislative vehicles there.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the top spender on federal lobbying, decreased its tab in the second quarter of this year with $11.7 million, down from the first quarter’s $17.2 million and down from the second quarter of 2016, which was $22.8 million. Chamber spokeswoman Blair Latoff Holmes said the business lobby would open its wallet as legislative activity increases in the coming months.

“We expect our spending to increase as Congress turns its attention to, among other topics, tax reform and to infrastructure investment, which are two key priorities for the business community,” she said.

Already, tax issues boosted the National Retail Federation’s federal lobbying spending, according to reports to Congress that were due last week. The group, along with the Koch political and business networks, has worked hard to kill off a proposal backed by House GOP leaders to impose a new border adjustment tax as a way to pay for tax cuts.

The retail group, for example, disclosed spending $5 million on federal lobbying during this year’s second quarter, which covered the months of April, May and June. The figure also included lobbying efforts on financial services policy related to so-called swipe fees, the health care overhaul, trade and infrastructure measures.

“It’s like the entire agenda came to NRF,” said the group’s top lobbyist David French. “Fortunately, our members have been very, very fully engaged in this and want us to be engaged.”

Though the border adjustment tax, known as BAT, appears likely dead, French said his group would continue to lobby against it and, simultaneously, for a comprehensive tax overhaul. “We hope we can support a tax reform plan before the end of the year,” he said.

The drug industry lobby group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America increased its federal lobbying tab to $14 million during the first half of the year as lawmakers debated dismantling the 2010 health care law. Its lobbying spending is up from $10.6 million during the first six months of 2016. However, the group did not report spending as much money in this year’s second quarter ($6 million) as it did during the first quarter ($8 million).

“PhRMA doesn’t comment on our advocacy strategy,” said the group’s Andrew Powaleny.

Tech conglomerate Google, by contrast, sharply increased its lobbying bill in this year’s second quarter to $5.9 million from the first quarter’s $3.5 million and last year’s second quarter of $4.2 million, according to lobbying disclosures.

Google’s top lobbyist, former Rep. Susan Molinari, R-N.Y., did not respond to an email requesting comment. The company disclosed lobbying on policy issues related to self-driving vehicle technology, a tax overhaul, immigration visas for high-skilled workers, and government funding of scientific research, among other matters.