Top lobbying victories of 2015

Top lobbying victories of 2015
© Greg Nash

The GOP-controlled Congress delivered by the 2014 midterm elections shifted the political landscape in Washington, sparking new action this year in a host of policy fights.

Lawmakers approved major bills on transportation, trade, healthcare and national security. Meanwhile, the Obama administration — intent on cementing its legacy in the face of opposition from the Republican majorities on Capitol Hill — forged ahead on the president’s environmental goals and brokered a sweeping international nuclear accord.

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Behind the scenes, K Street pros and a slew of special interest groups fought tooth-and-nail on behalf of clients and supporters, racking up noteworthy wins — and some bruising defeats — this year.

Many battles came down to the wire, including a long-running industry push to end the ban on U.S. crude oil exports, a business-backed push to delay a National Labor Relations Board ruling governing franchises and an effort to extend healthcare for 9/11 first responders.

The outcome of those debates was uncertain Tuesday as lawmakers remained embroiled in year-end funding talks, though GOP leaders vowed to include the latter in the final language.

Here, as they stand, are 10 of the top lobbying victories of 2015.

 

LONG-TERM HIGHWAY FUNDING BILL

Lawmakers last month approved a long-term highway bill — a feat that hadn’t been accomplished in a decade.

The five-year, $305 billion deal sorted out a giant shortfall in annual transportation funding. Congress had long grappled for ways to bridge an annual $16 billion deficit in funding without raising the excise taxes on gasoline, and 2015 proved to be their year.

Conservatives, including the Heritage Foundation, called the legislation a “bailout” of the Highway Trust Fund “that would leave federal highway financing even worse off when the bill’s money runs out.”

Winners: Many industry groups and labor unions, including the Associated Equipment Distributors, the Transport Workers Union of America, the AFL-CIO, the National Association of Manufacturers and the American Petroleum Institute.

 

KEYSTONE XL PIPELINE

President Obama dealt a major win to environmentalists in November when he rejected the Keystone XL pipeline.

The project’s application was the subject of an intense six-year brawl pitting green groups against business and labor interests in favor of a project meant to transport oil sands from Canada to the Gulf Coast.

In the end, the fierce push from the energy industry, many Republicans and some unions couldn’t sway the president, who’d grown increasingly cool to the proposal in recent years.

Winners: Environmentalists including Tom Steyer and NextGen Climate, the Natural Resources Defense Council, League of Conservation Voters and Sierra Club, and progressive groups such as Credo Action.

 

TRADE PROMOTION AUTHORITY

One of the year’s hardest-fought lobbying victories may ultimately ring the most hollow.

In June, Congress narrowly signed off on a measure handing President Obama trade promotion, or “fast track,” authority after months of debate. The coveted power, which ensures the president an up-or-down vote on trade deals and prevents Congress from amending them, was seen as crucial to passage of the 12--nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a top Obama priority.

Trade Benefits America, a coalition of more than 240 companies and industry groups, was relentless in advocating for the provision, along with additional backing from a conservative nonprofit.

But even armed with fast-track power, Obama remains far from assured that Congress will pass the deal, which his come under fire from both sides of the aisle.

Winners: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers, American Farm Bureau Federation, Wine Institute, American Council of Life Insurers, and American Forest & Paper Association, and the conservative group Club for Growth.

 

‘DOC FIX’

Each year for almost two decades, lawmakers were forced to scramble to avert scheduled Medicare payment cuts for doctors. The annual effort, known as the “doc fix,” yielded a windfall for K Street firms each time the issue came up for debate.

Then-Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerJohn Feehery: A political forest fire Trump's pick for Federal Reserve chief is right choice at right time The two-party system is dying — let’s put it out of its misery MORE (R-Ohio) quietly led efforts this year to end the annual cuts, building support for a doc-fix bill costing an estimated $200 billion.

The price tag, which was not offset, rubbed conservative groups the wrong way. But almost every other industry, patient and doctors group cheered its passage.

Winners: The American Health Care Association, Federation of American Hospitals, American Medical Association and American Academy of Family Physicians.

 

EX-IM BANK REAUTHORIZATION

One of the most bitterly fought lobbying brawls of 2015 centered on an 81-year-old institution that had traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support.

The Export-Import Bank, which helps finance U.S. companies’ projects overseas, saw its charter lapse over the summer amid a groundswell of opposition from conservative critics and Delta Airlines, who all decried the bank’s dealings as corporate welfare.

More than 100 entities listed lobbying either for or against the bank in 2015, according to a tally of disclosure forms by The Hill.

In the end, backers of the bank, who say it helps U.S. companies compete with foreign competitors, prevailed with a provision tucked last month into the highway funding legislation, reauthorizing Ex-Im for four years.

Winners: Boeing, General Electric, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers.

 

NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY REFORMS

The USA Freedom Act took a significant step in altering several provisions of the Patriot Act enacted after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

The measure, which caused a major tussle between privacy advocates and security hawks, imposes new limits on the National Security Agency’s (NSA) collection of domestic phone records and required new transparency measures, among other changes.

Passage came in the face of objections from both sides of the aisle.

Some Republicans unsuccessfully pushed to extend the Patriot Act provisions unchanged for five years.

Meanwhile, NSA whistleblowers, liberal groups Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Credo Action, and the libertarian group Campaign for Liberty said it did not go far enough to curtail mass surveillance and encouraged lawmakers to oppose it.

Winners: Edward Snowden; many in the tech industry, including Google, Apple, AOL, Facebook and Microsoft; the American Civil Liberties Union; and the American Library Association.

 

VOTE ON IRAN DEAL

GOP leaders in Congress hoped to secure enough uneasy Democrats to override the Iran nuclear deal that the Obama administration negotiated with other world powers.

Uniformly opposed by Republicans, the deal lifts economic sanctions against Iran in return for the country scaling back its nuclear development and dismantling part of its nuclear program for the next 10 to 15 years.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee lobbied hard to torpedo the deal, flooding the airwaves with tens of millions of dollars in television ads in the home states of undecided lawmakers and bringing in hundreds of pro-Israel activists to directly lobby Capitol Hill.

J Street, a more liberal Jewish group, announced its own multimillion-dollar blitz on lawmakers in support of the deal.

Sen. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerAmerica isn't ready to let Sessions off his leash Schumer celebrates New York Giants firing head coach: ‘About time’ GOP should reject the left's pessimism and the deficit trigger MORE (D-N.Y.) came out strongly against it, and along with three other Senate Democrats, voted with Republicans in September to block the deal from moving forward. In the end, that wasn’t enough to squash it.

Winners: J Street, The National Iranian American Council and the Arms Control Association.

 

COMMERCIAL SPACE

The growing commercial space industry — which includes Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX — secured a big win last month with Obama signing the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act.

In addition to extending an exemption for commercial space companies from federal regulation until 2023, it also allows them to make money from mining resources from asteroids. Historically, space has been largely treated as publicly owned, but the law now gives individuals the ability to own any materials obtained from asteroids.

Winners: SpaceX, Blue Origin, Moon Express, Planetary Resources, Virgin Galactic.

 

9/11 HEALTHCARE COVERAGE

“So maybe shame does work,” Jon Stewart, former host of “The Daily Show,” said earlier this month after he stormed Capitol Hill, surrounded by cameras and flanked by first responders.

The group went to meet with Republicans who were yet to support the reauthorization of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which passed in 2010 and provided healthcare coverage for police and firefighters that responded to the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. It expired on Oct. 1 and will run out of funds next year.

Although it has a majority of support in both chambers, some lawmakers remained concerned with its cost.

On camera, Stewart got Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Overnight Finance: House approves motion to go to tax conference — with drama | GOP leaders to consider Dec. 30 spending bill | Justices skeptical of ban on sports betting | Mulvaney won't fire official who sued him How four GOP senators guided a tax-bill victory behind the scenes MORE (R-Ohio) to flip his vote on the measure, and McConnell later promised it would end up in the year-end spending bill unveiled this week.

Winners: Jon Stewart, the National Fraternal Order of Police, National Association of Police Organizations, International Union of Operating Engineers, International Association of Fire Fighters, and the Sergeants Benevolent Association of New York.

 

CHIMPANZEE RESEARCH PROGRAM

A Fish and Wildlife Service decision earlier this year that extended endangered-species protection to chimpanzees held in captivity altered how entities could hold them.

It effectively banned keeping chimpanzees as pets, but it also made it harder for federal researchers to conduct invasive biomedical research on the animals unless they could prove it had benefits for ones in the wild.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) then announced in November that the federal government was ceasing invasive medical research on chimpanzees and would retire the remaining 50 chimps in the long-running program.

The changes date to 2011, when an Institution of Medicine report concluded that most chimp research was unnecessary. Two years ago, the NIH retired more than 300 research chimpanzees.

Winners: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals; the Humane Society of the United States; Steve Ross, director of the Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago; and the Jane Goodall Institute.