House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) yesterday told a coalition of business lobbyists in favor of the Central American free-trade deal to refrain from running ads in members’ districts over the coming Memorial Day recess, arguing that such media exposure would “energize” opposition to the agreement.
“Members don’t need to hear that in their districts,” he told a broad array of business groups gathered to kick off a lobbying campaign for the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA).
“We’re assuming our friends on the other side of this are doing the same thing, but we don’t want to energize them where they might not have been energized before,” he said, encouraging the lobbyists to focus instead on generating letters, meeting with editorial boards and galvanizing local business groups.
As the Republicans’ chief vote counter in the House, Blunt faces a formidable task in gathering support for the trade deal, which faces strong opposition from labor unions, the sugar industry and many Democrats.
Blunt has often relied on the help of business coalitions to bring undecided members over to his side on tight votes. Yet his comments to the lobbyists may indicate that he plans to take a softer approach with undecided members, at least at first, rather than attacking them with potentially confrontational ads on their home turf.
Still, one influential business leader seemed to welcome confrontation.
“We’re going to key-vote this issue and count it twice,” said Tom Donohue, head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, referring to the common lobbying practice of rating members based on their votes on key issues. “If you’re going to vote against it, it’s going to cost you.”
“We’re going to pull out all the stops on this, and, mark my words, we’re going to win this vote,” he said.
Aside from the Chamber, many other business groups vowed yesterday to lobby hard for the trade deal. Among them were the Business Roundtable, the National Association of Manufacturers and a broad array of sector-specific trade groups.
Blunt said that he had not yet done a whip count to determine how many votes he still needed, but he told the lobbyists that “the more I do the whip’s job, the more I look forward to a good fight, and this is going to be one.”
A lobbyist working on the business coalition said that its whip operation — led by Kirsten Chadwick at Fierce Isakowitz & Blalock and Steve Champlin at the Duberstein Group — had estimated that the trade deal still needed 30 to 40 more votes to pass.
Blunt laid out an unusually fast schedule for bringing the deal to the House floor, saying he hoped to get it done before the July 4 congressional recess. The trade bill has yet to move through committee, with both the House and Senate aiming for committee action the week of June 13.
Several other members of Congress addressed the gathering of about 50 business lobbyists. Rep. Clay Shaw (R-Fla.) said he hoped to see more lobbyists when the vote neared. “When we come back in June, I want to see every seat full,” he said.
Although lobbyists have held weekly meetings among themselves for some time to prepare for the pivotal trade vote, it was only in the past month that they began to coordinate with the whip’s office.
Blunt enlisted a similar coalition of business lobbyists to help pass the corporate tax bill last year.