K St. winners and losers in budget votes

The budget “vote-a-rama” in the Senate last week delivered significant victories — and major setbacks — to many lobbyists on K Street.

The amendment process, while nonbinding, serves as a testing ground for proposals that lobbyists and trade groups are hoping to move through this session of Congress. 

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Lobbyists who saw their favored amendments pass can use the vote to make the case for action on Capitol Hill. For lobbyists who saw their clients’ interests voted down — or not voted on at all — making the case for a Senate vote can get tougher.

David French, senior vice president for government relations at the National Retail Federation, said the passage of an online sales tax amendment with bipartisan support gives added oomph to his group’s lobbying campaign. 

“Big and bipartisan is a good sign, and gives us an opportunity to get this bill out of the Senate and move forward,” French said. 

Here’s a look at who triumphed, and who fell flat, during the Senate budget votes last week: 


WINNERS

Medical device companies

It’s not often you find 33 Democratic senators willing to dissemble a part of the Affordable Care Act — the achievement of President Obama’s first term — but that’s what happened last week. 

Seventy-nine senators voted to pass an amendment that would repeal the healthcare reform law’s medical device tax, which device-makers argue hurts economic growth and costs jobs. 

“It is a milestone. This is the first time that the Senate has voted on device-tax repeal,” said J.C. Scott, chief lobbyist for AdvaMed, the medical device-makers trade group. “I think there is a real possibility, as we are encouraged by the strong showing in the Senate, that there will be an opportunity to get this done this year.” 


Retailers

Lobbyists for the retail industry notched a big win with overwhelming bipartisan approval of an online sales tax measure.

Twenty-six Republican senators joined Democrats in backing a bill that would allow states to collect sales taxes on goods purchased online within their borders. Lobbyists hope the strong showing, with 75 votes in favor, will help break through the wall of resistance in the House.

“The vote was very big and bipartisan,” French said. “The House members are certainly going to take note of how the Senate voted, so it certainly helps us in the House as well.”


Oil-and-gas industry

The oil-and-gas industry marshaled a filibuster-proof majority of 62 votes for approval of the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline. 

Environmental groups that are typically aligned with Democrats have aggressively opposed the pipeline project, which would extend from Canada to the Gulf Coast.

But 17 Senate Democrats joined Republicans in support of the pipeline amendment, ratcheting up pressure on the Obama administration to approve it. 


Seniors groups, unions

Advocates for seniors and unions scored a win in their fight against entitlement cuts.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) offered a budget amendment that opposed cutting safety net programs for veterans by using a less generous measure of inflation known as the chained consumer price index (CPI).

The measure was approved by voice vote, so it’s hard to tell how many senators backed it. That said, the upper chamber is now on record against chained CPI, which the president has put on the negotiating table with Republicans during deficit talks. 

In a statement Friday, AARP Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Joyce Rogers said the group “applaud[s]” the Senate’s budget “for agreeing that Social Security not be used as part of deficit reduction.”


LOSERS

Sugar reformers

Advocates for sugar policy reform were shut out of the “vote-a-rama,” failing to secure a vote for an amendment that would have defunded the Feedstock Flexibility Program. 

That program requires the U.S. government to buy and sell surplus sugar to ethanol producers. Doing away with that requirement is part of the Sugar Reform Act that candy-makers and other groups are putting lobbying muscle behind.

The real fight over sugar policy will arrive whenever the Senate takes up the farm bill.

Larry Graham, president of the National Confectioners Association, said there is “momentum building on both sides of the aisle to reform the sugar program in the farm bill.”

U.S. sugar growers strongly oppose the reform act, arguing it would cripple their industry.


Campaign watchdogs

A requirement for senators to electronically file their campaign finance reports that has long been sought by watchdog groups failed to receive a vote.

Senate candidates still file their reports on paper with the Secretary of the Senate, costing time and money, while House and presidential candidates do so electronically straight to the Federal Election Commission.

Andrea Helling, a spokeswoman for Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) who offered the amendment, said Tester is not giving up on the proposal and plans to work to attach the measure to the legislative appropriations bill this year.



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