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Lobbyists prepare for ‘two-week sprint’

It’s go time for K Street. 

With only two weeks left on the calendar before lawmakers leave Washington to campaign full-time, lobbyists are limbering up for a two-week dash that could determine whether their clients win big after the election.

Lobbyists will be competing with one another for precious face time with congressional offices as they seek to establish their issues as a top priority for the remainder of the year.

“Even when Congress is short on time, Washington is never short on work,” Kimberley Fritts, the chief executive of Podesta Group, wrote to The Hill in an email.

The September session of Congress is likely to be dominated by work on a short-term spending bill to prevent a government shutdown, but other big-ticket items loom, including reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank and the renewal of expired tax breaks.

“It’s always a challenge when you’re trying to advance an idea or push for something new [in September], to compete with the legislative season that falls right before an election,” said David Tamasi, a lobbyist and GOP strategist at Rasky Baerlein. “September is a busy two-week sprint when they get back in.”

Rasky Baerlein is among several players working on a reauthorization of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA), which is set to expire on Dec. 31.

“If you don’t have a horse in must-pass legislation,” he added, “it’s hard to compete for attention in an environment that’s really  focused on politics.”

Lobbyists are also working to shape the decisions that are being made about where federal monies will be allocated in 2015.

One firm that specializes in the appropriations process, Van Scoyoc Associates, said lobbyists have been active in both Congress and the executive branch as legislators set aside funding for next year.

“There is a tremendous amount of activity at the agency level” as officials “try to get projects and grants out the door” by Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, said Stu Van Scoyoc, the firm’s president. “Our people are very, very busy.”

On the congressional level, “there’s an awful lot going on behind the scenes to prepare for a burst of [budget legislation] activity in mid-November to December and from January to whenever the debt ceiling expires,” he said.

Lobbyists said they expect lawmakers to pass a “clean” stopgap bill to avoid a shutdown fight before the election, but are counting on being able to influence the omnibus funding package when it comes out later this year.

“There’s a brief amount of time to have those negotiations,” said Stewart Verdery, a founder of Monument Policy Group. “If you can get appropriators to agree on something, it’s a ripe opportunity for action after the election.”

Verdery’s firm is lobbying on legislation to reform the National Security Agency and on the reauthorization of BRAND USA, a public-private partnership that markets the U.S. as a tourist destination and expires next year.

Business lobbyists are also focused on saving the Export-Import Bank before its charter expires at the end of September. Opposition from powerful conservative groups that decry the bank as “crony capitalism” has put the bank’s reauthorization in doubt.

The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) dialed up the pressure on lawmakers during the summer recess by helping small-business owners run op-eds in their districts touting the bank’s benefits.

Linda Dempsey, NAM’s vice president of international economic affairs, said the group now plans to shift its lobbying focus back to Capitol Hill.

“We had good momentum during the August recess and we’re going to continue that momentum. ... We’re up [on Capitol Hill] every single day,” she said. “We’re not going to stop” until the bank is reauthorized.

For other lobbyists, September is a time to ensure that smaller initiatives remain on lawmakers’ minds. 

“Those things that had a great deal of momentum earlier in the year — if you don’t take advantage of them getting out of the Senate, you have to start all over again next year,” said one lobbyist at a large firm who asked not to be identified. 

Clients are saying, “Let’s get some people in to get this connected to anything that’s moving,” the lobbyist said, pointing to the repeal of the medical device tax as one example of a legislative proposal that could be revived.

“There are a lot of people trying to pile into a limited amount of time slots,” the person said.