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Phones light up at GOP lobby firms

Greg Nash

Republican lobbyists are preparing for a surge of new business now that their party has won complete control of Congress for the first time in eight years.

Advocates and firms affiliated with the GOP said their phones started ringing off the hook Wednesday morning as clients began coming to terms with the new balance of power in Washington — and what it could mean for their priorities.

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“The GOP Senate takeover is a game changer for Washington,” said Hunter Bates of Republic Consulting, who served as chief of staff to Sen. Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellSenate Dems: Add Flint aid to spending deal Zika funding fight throws wrench in health lobbyists’ plans Shutdown risk grows over Flint MORE (R-Ky.). “The status quo of the last four years has not been good for the country or for legislative activity on the Hill.”

With McConnell likely to ascend to Senate leader, Bates and other lobbyists with close ties to high-ranking Senate Republicans are likely to see a significant boost.

“It’s been a stream [of calls] already this morning,” said John Keast, a partner at the bipartisan Cornerstone Government Affairs and former chief of staff to now-Sen. Roger WickerRoger WickerGOP pressures Kerry on Russia's use of Iranian airbase GOP to Obama: Sanction Chinese entities to get to North Korea Senate GOP pressures Dems for deal on internet fight MORE (R-Miss.) while he served in the House. “Everyone, the day after, is trying to figure out what this means for the coming Congress and the lame duck.”

While Senate Democrats will still have the power to filibuster legislation in the minority, Republicans now have the power to set the agenda in both chambers, potentially passing legislation that enjoys support from a minority of Democrats.

McConnell has vowed that the chamber will be working longer hours in 2015 — and that’s just what K Street wants to hear.

“The vote-a-rama will be coming back to the Senate,” said Mike Nielsen, a partner at the all-Republican Clark Geduldig Cranford & Nielsen, referring to votes on budget amendments that can sometimes stretch on for days.

“If Congress is more active, obviously people are paying more attention. There are more things on the table,” Nielson said. “There could be more risk for companies but there are also more opportunities to accomplish things.”

With a GOP majority that will number at least 52 members in the Senate  — and the possibility of that total growing to as many as 55 — Republicans will soon have major leverage, especially on the committees where they will be taking over as chairmen.

That leverage could translate into dollar signs for lobby shops like Clark Geduldig Cranford & Nielsen, Fierce, Isakowitz & Blalock, Republic Consulting and BGR Group that are dominated by Republican operatives.

Lobbyists said one thing to watch in the next Congress will be whether McConnell and Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerRepublican Study Committee elders back Harris for chairman Dems to GOP: Help us fix ObamaCare The disorderly order of presidential succession MORE (R-Ohio) are able too keep their troops unified and moving in the same direction.

With firebrands in the House and Senate urging leaders to go bold on a conservative agenda, and 2016 hopefuls seeking to make their mark, Republicans are bound to splinter on some issues.

“Anyone who thinks there isn’t a tension [within the Republican majority] isn’t being realistic,” said Keast. “What matters is the ability of leader McConnell to allow a process-oriented outlet for that tension.”

The job of assuaging some of Congress’s more conservative members could fall to lobbyists, who specialize in building coalitions and neutralizing disagreements among members. Additionally, with double-digit House seat pickups from the election, hard-line members might not have as much sway in the Republican Conference.

Several lobbyists on K Street said they are hopeful there will be an incentive for both parties to work with President Obama as he enters the last two years of his term.

One of the optimists is David Urban, who served as chief of staff to the late Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) before he switched parties.

“People across the United States want to see the legislature legislate,” said Urban, now the president of American Continental Group, a bipartisan lobbying firm. “They want to see people compromise and advance legislation ... there are deals that can be cut that are beneficial to Republicans, they’re going to move to do.”

The new era of Republican control could fill the coffers of GOP-learning firms, but lobby shops with Democratic affiliations are also poised to benefit.

Gephardt Government Affairs, founded by former Democratic Rep. Dick Gephardt (Mo.), has prominent Republicans on staff, including George W. Bush administration official Scott Brenner and former legislative director for Sen. Susan CollinsSusan CollinsSwing-state Republicans play up efforts for gun control laws Reid knocks GOP on gun 'terror loophole' after attacks GOP pressures Kerry on Russia's use of Iranian airbase MORE (R-Maine), Rob Epplin. McBee Strategic Consulting has Matt Johnson, one of the only former aides to Sen. John CornynJohn CornynSenate poised to override Obama veto Senate to vote on 9/11 veto override Wednesday This week: Shutdown deadline looms over Congress MORE (Texas), will likely be second-in-command to McConnell, on K Street.

Bigger law and lobby shops such as Holland & Knight and Akin Gump also expect an uptick in business as Republicans attempt to dismantle some Obama administration regulations.

Rob Smith, the co-chairman of Venable’s legislative practice group and a former Republican staffer, was among the lobbyists inundated with calls on Wednesday.

“Even our Democratic colleagues aren’t crying in their beer because they know there’s going to be a lot of activity,” he said. 

Some lobbyists cautioned that the change of power in the Senate won’t generate the same level of business as the wave election of 2010.

“The change in the Senate majority is less impactful than a change in the House majority because the power of each individual senator means that clients always want to have relationships with senators of both parties,” John O’Neill, a partner at Capitol Counsel and former aide to Senate Republican Whip Trent Lott (Miss.), said in an email Wednesday.

“Having said that,” he added, “there are a lot of big smiles this morning on the faces of Senate Republican lobbyists with close ties to the Republican leaders and committee chairs who will be setting the Senate agenda.”