Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., along with several prominent Democrats, met with a number of key lobbyists Wednesday in an attempt to change the political culture on K Street, Washington, D.C.’s major thoroughfare known for its numerous think tanks and advocacy groups that exercise influence in the nation’s capital.
According to a report in the Capitol Hill newspaper “Roll Call,” Reid, Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., House Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., are pushing K Street to abandon its allegiance to the GOP and are pressing major lobbying organizations and trade groups to accept the new majority.
Reid and his Senate and House colleagues have spent the last year-and-a-half reaching out to lobbyists and the business community on K Street in a push to get more Democrats hired in top positions.
They claim the bulk of Democratic new-hire positions with lobbying firms, trade associations and individual companies in recent months are mostly low- and mid-level, leaving Republicans entrenched at the top of most prominent firms.
Reid and the other members of his party say that even with the hiring of a few token Democrats, much of the business community continues to take its lobbying, advertising spending, and policy research cues from the GOP.
In an effort to assuage the adversity on Capitol Hill created by a Democratic-controlled House and Republican dominance on K Street, Reid and his party’s leadership are throwing their weight behind a new bill designed to offer a package of tax extenders that would favor many business and manufacturing interests.
Reid and other members of the majority party expect companies and trade associations with an interest in the bill to make a concerted push for it similar to one they made for Republican initiatives during the GOP’s reign.
“I think they haven’t come to terms with what happened two Novembers ago,” says Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., who says that while Democrats are willing to meet with Republican lobbyists, the lack of a common philosophical and policy background makes it hard to communicate and build consensus.
“There still has not been much of a sea change,” one Democratic lobbyist agrees, noting that Republicans continue to hold the leading spots at the Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and major industries that include banking, telecommunications, health care, aviation and automotive.
Menendez and others warn the business community on K Street to proactively work with Democrats to move legislation. He says businesses that don’t move quickly to alter the political composition of their lobbying shops will find an increasingly inhospitable environment on Capitol Hill.
“Sometimes old habits are hard to change,” says Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D. “Some organizations are so accustomed to being an adjunct of the Republican majority agenda, it’s hard [for them] to break those habits.”
Dorgan says, “To me, it’s not about how many Democrats are hired. It’s about how they [the lobbyists and business community on K Street] weigh in on issues that are important for the country. The fact is control of the country has changed, and I hope they would start to work with us.”
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