K Street lobbyists say their near-term priorities are scandal-proof

K Street lobbyists say they are confident that their near-term legislative priorities won’t be thrown off course by the growing focus on executive branch scandals.

As Congress mounts investigations into controversies at the IRS and Departments of Justice and State, emphasis on tax, immigration and farm legislation has faded.

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That’s just fine with the conservative group Heritage Action, which last week made an attempt to make sure some of those bills remain on the back burner.

The group urged Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to keep bills that divide the GOP — such as the $940 billion farm bill and the Internet sales tax bill — off the House floor so the focus can be kept on the scandals engulfing President Obama’s administration.

Since then, top GOP lawmakers have emphasized that the regular work of legislating will continue.

Farm lobbyists said that they are not worried about the Heritage letter and believe House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) will keep his commitment to bring the farm bill to the floor this summer.

“We have lots of time to get this bill done by this fall. Boehner has said several times publicly we will do the farm bill this year, and I think he will stick to that commitment. It would be nice to have it done soon, but if it gets momentarily set aside, we can deal with that too,” said one top agriculture lobbyist.

Steve Censky of the American Soybean Association said House leaders must disregard the Heritage plea.

“The House is and should be able to handle multiple issues. The farm bill should have been completed almost a year ago,” he said. 

A conservative lobbyist who is opposed to the farm bill agreed that the legislative train isn’t slowing down.

“The timetable envisioned all along was the Senate moving quickly and the House moving closer to the August recess. That still appears to be the plan,” he said.

Supporters of legislation to allow wider collection of Internet sales taxes also said they were not worried about the scandals becoming a distraction. 

“I don’t believe the Heritage letter has been well-received by House members. Their advice is not only bad public policy, but also politically stupid,” said Jason Brewer of the Retail Industry Leaders Association. “Ultimately, I suspect many House Republicans will do what a majority of Republican senators did when presented with sage advice from Heritage: ignore it.”

David French of National Retail Federation, who supports the Internet sales tax bill, said the Heritage Action letter was “odd” and “crassly political.”

The House Judiciary committee will proceed to the sales tax bill on the same timeline as it would otherwise, French said. 

The investigations have thus far had little effect on the momentum of immigration reform, the president’s top domestic priority. The Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday began its second week of work on a bipartisan immigration proposal, and a group in the House announced progress on a rival plan last week even as the scandals erupted.

“Congress can walk and chew gum at the same time,” said Tamar Jacoby, president of ImmigrationWorks USA, a business coalition advocating for an immigration overhaul. 

Jacoby said there are always issues that crop up that can derail major legislation, but she said Republican leaders have an incentive, for reasons of both policy and politics, to see immigration reform enacted.

“They’re on their own merits, and the scandal doesn’t really affect that,” she said.

While the Senate immigration bill could get a floor vote within a month, House legislation is expected to take significantly longer, making it difficult to predict whether the political environment will help or hurt its chances.

Asked about the letter, a Boehner spokesman referred to comments the Speaker made last week at a press conference, where he made clear that House Republicans would press ahead with their legislative agenda even as they investigate the Obama administration.

“We have a twofold job here in the Congress,” Boehner said. “We need to keep focused on the priorities of the American people, and those priorities are the fact that we’re not creating jobs quick enough and we’ve got stagnant wages in our country.”

“In addition to that,” the Speaker said, “we have a responsibility under the Constitution to provide oversight of the executive branch. And we’re going to continue to both of our jobs as outlined by the Constitution.”

There is no love lost between the leadership and Heritage Action, which has aggressively opposed many of Boehner’s top priorities over the last two years. 

A House Republican leadership aide was dismissive of the Heritage letter and took the organization to task for suggesting a strategy to promote unity when its own actions had repeatedly exploited divisions in the party over the last two years. “It’s not something that’s taken very seriously,” the aide said.

Another major item on the GOP agenda, tax reform, could get a boost from revelations about the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups, according to Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.).

Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Camp said the inquiry into the Internal Revenue Service highlights problems with the tax code and strengthens the case for reforming it.

Despite the general confidence, some have expressed worries about the direction of the legislative agenda. 

Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.), the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, said on MSNBC Monday that the investigations could hurt tax reform and any immigration overhaul by undermining bipartisanship. 

“The difficulty of turning this into too much of a political effort will be it will undermine other efforts like tax reform, like immigration action, like work on gun violence issues,” he said. 


Daniel Strauss contributed to this report.


Committees investigating Obama administration

Benghazi, Libya, terrorist attack

• House Oversight and Government Reform Committee

• House Foreign Affairs Committee

• House  Armed Services Committee

• House Intelligence Committee

• House Judiciary Committee

IRS’s targeting of Tea Party groups

• House Ways and Means Committee

• Senate Finance Committee

• House Oversight and Government Reform Committee

Justice Department’s subpoena of AP phone records

• House Judiciary Committee