As the clock ticks toward sequestration, and given there are only a couple of negotiators in the room, what is it that lobbyists are up to these days?
That's what my colleague Sara Sorcher and I look into for this week's National Journal Magazine. From our story:
As a massive digital clock on the stage ticked down the days, hours, minutes, and seconds until sequestration, Marion Blakey railed against the automatic spending cuts that would, she said, undermine American security and eliminate 2 million jobs. The influential Aerospace Industries Association CEO glossed over the normal report on the defense business, usually the hot topic of the trade group’s annual luncheon last week at the Grand Hyatt downtown, to dwell on the anti-sequestration argument that she has led for more than a year. “Not only are we running out of time, we’re running out of metaphors,” she said. “For an issue that’s been called everything from a ‘self-inflicted wound’ to a ‘Satan sandwich,’ this could be a real tragedy.”
Blakey was preaching to the choir. Many audience members have canvassed Capitol Hill for months, warning members about the automatic $109 billion cut to the federal budget. But at the Hyatt, they simply dug into their three-course meals. They visited the bar. They barely flinched at Blakey’s apocalyptic doomsaying. Now that it’s crunch time, many lobbyists are slowing—or stopping—their lobbying efforts. All they can do is wait for Congress and the White House to work things out. “It feels like a ghost town, with nothing but Christmas parties going on,” says GOP strategist and insider Ron Bonjean. “Most members of Congress are waiting in their offices or their districts, watching the negotiations going on between the leaders and the president.” So, as President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner trade barbs, the lobbyists may as well have a drink. Or three.
Many lobbyists are working to monitor the latest negotiation developments, and some are turning to other forms of advocacy in hopes of keeping pressure up. But folks are mostly in wait-and-see mode, particularly around sequestration -- so much lobbying has already occured to explain the impacts, especially to the defense industry, that the stakes are pretty much understood on the Hill.
To be sure, some industry leaders are still publicly flogging a balanced solution to the cliff, through letters to the president and congressional leaders and a few scattered speeches. Others are working districts outside Washington through grassroots lobbying, advertising, and media aimed at rallying constituents to pressure their members of Congress. “But more than anything else, it’s just mood music while the negotiators sit down,” says [Daniel Clifton, partner and head of policy research at Strategas].