K Street ready for sequestration battle

A variety of interests on K Street have amassed their forces to stop the dreaded $1.2 trillion budget sequester, new lobbying disclosures reveal.

President Obama said in Monday night’s debate that the cuts in the sequester won’t happen — a remark that was well-received by the defense contractors, healthcare providers, business groups and unions doing everything in their power to stop it.

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Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) reports filed on Monday reveal the widespread opposition to sequestration that has taken root in the influence industry ahead of the post-election lame-duck session.

K Street firms representing everyone from air traffic controllers to museums are bending lawmakers’ ears on how their clients would be hurt by the sequestered cuts. If Congress doesn’t act before the end of the year, $109 billion will be slashed from the budget in January — the first installment of a 10-year, $1.2 trillion cut that will hit nearly every corner of the federal budget.

That has led some on K Street to argue the sequester will lead to lost jobs, setbacks for education and damage to national security. 

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce — the biggest lobbying force in town — is among the groups calling for a reprieve.

“We oppose sequestration because it cuts everything the same and we know that all spending is not created equal,” said Blair Latoff, a Chamber spokeswoman. “We think that the Congress and the administration ought to come up with a prioritization of appropriate cuts to replace sequestration. As we have stated in our letters, the real problem is entitlement spending, and until we address that issue we will not address the problem of deficits and debt.” 

Latoff noted a number of letters the Chamber has sent to lawmakers warning of the perils of sequestration. 

Labor unions are focusing their opposition on the coming cuts to a number of programs, including education. The National Education Association (NEA), the nation’s largest union, said schools are under threat.  

“Sequestration shortchanges students, especially students from low-income families and students with special needs,” said Mary Kusler, NEA’s director of government relations. “Congress has an obligation to ensure that education funding doesn’t fall off a cliff. It’s up to Congress to find a balanced solution — one that doesn’t leave America’s students out in the cold, left to fend for themselves.” 

Two of Washington’s most powerful lobbies — the defense industry and the healthcare sector — are also pushing back against the budget cuts. 

The Aerospace Industries Association, which represents several defense contractors, on Tuesday jumped on Obama’s debate remark to call for an end to the sequester. 

The American Medical Association (AMA) and several other medical trade groups wrote a letter to lawmakers last month asking them to nullify the sequestered cuts to Medicare providers. AMA, along with the American Hospital Association and the American Nurses Association, released a report that found up to 766,000 healthcare jobs could be lost by 2021 if the Medicare reductions are allowed to go forward.

Lobbyists are also working to protect funding for government agencies that serve their clients’ industries. Advocates from the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, for instance, are regularly meeting with lawmakers on sequestration. 

“We are talking to members of Congress and others in the aviation industry about our concerns that the sequester could harm the efficient functioning of the U.S. aviation system,” said Doug Church, a spokesman for the air traffic controllers.  

Church referred to an Office of Management and Budget report released last month that detailed reduced federal funding under sequestration for agencies like the Federal Aviation Administration.

No interest is too small to seek K Street protection from sequestration. Dewey Blanton, a spokesman for the American Alliance of Museums, said his group has lobbied Congress to consider the ramifications of slashing museum programs, which would happen under the sequester.  

“Museum funding has already been cut back significantly in recent years, and AAM has made the case that Congress’s budget problems won’t be solved by further slashing these programs that are an extremely small piece of the federal budget,” Blanton said.