Stalemate in Congress over mega-ticket agenda items, such as a replacement for the Obama-era health care law, hasn’t upended K Street business this year.
The once-raging health care debate has yet to produce an enacted law as a replacement. But it has fueled business along the lobbying corridor, just as a tax overhaul is taking the spotlight in the final quarter of the year. Republicans in Congress may unveil their tax bill as early as next week.
Appropriations, budget, immigration and defense are also among the top drivers of policy work for lobbying organizations, according to disclosures recently filed with Congress covering the third quarter, from July 1 through Sept. 30.
“Tax reform is going to dominate the debate for the rest of this year, without question,” said Broderick Johnson, a partner with the lobbying and law firm Bryan Cave who served in the Obama White House.
His colleagues around Washington agree.
“The drivers tend to be, not surprisingly, the discussion about tax reform, health care and infrastructure,” said Darrell Conner, who co-chairs the public policy practice at the lobbying and law firm K&L Gates. “Obviously, heading into the fourth quarter, tax reform is going to be something a lot of people are talking about. Whether it actually happens — who knows.”
Conner, who served as an aide to former Michigan Republican Rep. Robert W. Davis, added that fiscal 2018 appropriations and defense authorization were also a major focus of the firm’s lobbying clients. His firm’s lobbying business is up more than 5 percent over the first three-quarters of last year, $13.1 million to 2016’s $12.5 million.
Though the two biggest clients on K Street, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Realtors, are not on pace to spend more this year than they did last year, key health interests are spending more now.
The drug industry’s Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, better known as PhRMA, has already exceeded its federal lobbying tab from last year in just the first three quarters of this year. For all of 2016, the trade group reported spending slightly under $20 million, which is what it has already disclosed through Sept. 30.
The American Medical Association appears on track to spend more this year than in 2016, when it spent over $19 million. It has already disclosed spending about $17 million. In the third quarter, the AMA reported working on topics such as the 2010 health care overhaul but also on matters related to immigration, including the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. The Trump administration has said it would phase out the Obama administration program — a move that business interests have widely denounced.
All told, more than 130 groups and companies, including tech giant Google, reported lobbying on the DACA program, up sharply from the year’s second quarter, when just 40 organizations reported lobbying on it.
Stewart Verdery, a Republican who runs the Monument Policy Group, represents Microsoft and other interests in the immigration fight and clients involved in the tax policy debate. His firm’s federal lobbying revenues increased during the first three quarters of the year to more than $5 million, compared with $4.35 million during the same period last year.
His shop has recently added new strategists, including Matt McAlvanah, who worked in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative during the Obama administration, and GOP press operative Elliott Schwartz.
“As far as the 2017 end game, the stakes couldn’t be higher for our clients who care about tax and immigration reform,” Verdery said.
So far during the first three quarters of 2017, the chamber has been the top spender on lobbying and has pushed for a tax overhaul, among numerous other congressional and regulatory matters, according to reports filed to Congress as required by law. Even so, the big business lobby is not on pace to exceed its spending last year, though it typically includes its campaign and issue advertisements in its lobby tab.
The second biggest player in lobbying so far this year is the National Association of Realtors, or NAR, which has mobilized its members across congressional districts over concerns with the GOP tax blueprint. Though Republicans and the Trump administration say they will keep in place a deduction for mortgage interest payments, the association’s lobbyists argue that a plan to increase the standard deduction would render the write-off nearly useless.
NAR president William E. Brown called the Republican proposal “a backdoor elimination of the mortgage interest deduction for all but the top 5 percent.”
The association, like the chamber, is not on pace to exceed its 2016 lobbying bill, which was more than $60 million.