Lobbyists gear up for final push as next coronavirus relief package takes shape

Congress approved the $10 billion Homeowner Assistance Fund to help pay mortgages, utilities, HOA fees, or property taxes if people are struggling because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lobbyists are pulling out all the stops in a mad dash to the finish line on what’s likely to be the last coronavirus relief bill before the elections.

Trade associations and advocacy groups that have been making their case to Congress for the past several months now have a small window of time to secure prized policies or funding on issues like a liability shield and workplace protections.

The final push comes on the heels of a strong second quarter for K Street, when the top lobbying firms brought in nearly $50 million, almost $5 million more than the previous three months, as clients scrambled for coronavirus relief.

Rich Gold, public policy and regulation group leader at Holland & Knight, said lobbying around the CARES Act, signed into law March 27, was particularly intense. Lobbying for the next relief package feels different, he said.

With the CARES Act, “you’re dealing with CEOs that really thought their company was not going to last another three weeks and there was a lot of emotion behind it,” Gold said.

“This package is more methodical. I also think staff are definitely more in the heavy vetting stage because these programs are more mature now. They really want to make sure what you’re asking for, there’s more opposition to it. Which is both right and good,” said Gold, whose firm has registered 57 new clients since mid-March.

He predicted that the next bill would be between $1.5 trillion and $2 trillion. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Monday that $1 trillion is a starting point for the negotiations on this legislation.

In the second quarter, trade associations and governments lobbied Congress for changes to programs in the CARES Act. They also sought extended relief and consideration of their priorities for the upcoming coronavirus relief package.

Lobbyists now are almost exclusively focused on negotiations around the next coronavirus relief package, which Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows are expected to discuss with Senate Republicans on Tuesday. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has also indicated he will begin “socializing” the package with his caucus on Tuesday.

The Democratic-led House passed its coronavirus relief package in May, which would provide $3 trillion in aid, but McConnell has said it won’t be considered in the Senate. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has since said that a package of $1.3 trillion in aid would be too low to provide relief needed from the pandemic.

Lobbyists say they’re noticing other differences now compared with earlier in the pandemic.

“It remains busy, but in terms of interest from clients and new clients, I think there’s a little bit of disappointment about some industry sectors. Some of the Treasury facilities have not worked well, have not provided the relief as necessary. So there remains some anxiety,” said Marc Lampkin, government relations department chair at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck LLP, the highest-grossing firm on K Street in the second quarter.

Brownstein signed 26 new clients in the second quarter alone.

“I think this COVID four package highlights the need for bipartisan strength. Inevitably, the bill will be negotiated among five cohorts — House Democrats, Senate Democrats, House Republicans, Senate Republicans, White House. Trying to triangulate, if you will, and making sure that your policy objectives are supported by all five sectors is incredibly important,” Lampkin said.

Lobbying Disclosure Act reports released Monday showed that from April through June, Brownstein reported a record $12.9 million. Akin Gump was the second highest-grossing and reported more than $12.4 million in the second quarter.

Other leading firms saw gains in the second quarter too. BGR Group reported just under $8 million in revenue for the second quarter, Holland & Knight reported under $7.2 million and Squire Patton Boggs reported just under $6.7 million.

Gold, of Holland & Knight, said it’s been a challenging environment for both lobbyists and clients.

“We’re not working under normal legislative timelines,” he said.

The top firms predicted lobbying for relief from the coronavirus pandemic won’t slow down with passage of this next package, even though it’s unlikely Congress will take up anything pricey or divisive between August and November.

“When you’ve got — whether it’s the restaurant, retail, or other segments, they are under the strain of the economic shutdown that was caused by COVID[-19] and they’re looking towards their government for help,” Lampkin said.

Gold argued that stimulus bills could resurface down the line, perhaps early next year.

“I still feel like there’s all this stuff out there awaiting a vehicle at some point, whether it’s tax provisions or infrastructure — more true stimulus,” he said. “You can sort of see off there in the distance the outline of a stimulus bill in quarter one of next year. A little unclear on the outlines of what’s in it, but it’s there and it’s coming.”

Tags Coronavirus economy Mark Meadows Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi relief bill Steven Mnuchin

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