Health care, spending bills fuel busy year for K Street

Health care, spending bills fuel busy year for K Street
© Greg Nash

Legislation on health care and spending helped K Street firms rack up contracts in 2019, in what was a busy year for the influence world.

The year opened with the longest government shutdown in U.S. history and closed with House Democrats impeaching President TrumpDonald John TrumpPelosi eyes end of April to bring a fourth coronavirus relief bill to the floor NBA to contribute 1 million surgical masks to NY essential workers Private equity firm with ties to Kushner asks Trump administration to relax rules on loan program: report MORE, but high-stakes policy fights and looming spending questions saw K Street's boom going strong.

622 clients hired lobbyists to work on the House version of the Department of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Act of 2020, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, the most on any legislation this year. 

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The totals are based on information from disclosure forms, where lobbyists detail “specific lobbying issues” they were hired to work on, and cover spending from Jan. 1 to Sept. 30, the first three quarters of the year.

Trump signed a massive $1.4 trillion bipartisan spending package last week to avoid a shutdown, capping a flurry of work at the end of the year. Large appropriations bills typically spur lobbying contracts and this year was no exception.

The health and education bill saw General Dynamics file eight lobbying disclosures on the legislation and Harvard University, Entergy Corp., National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, Planned Parenthood, Takeda Pharmaceutical and Tulane University each had six.

The focus on health care came amid broader bipartisan efforts to tackle high drug costs and the issue of surprise medical billing, and as 2020 Democratic contenders spared over ambitious "Medicare for All" proposals. 

Despite the push to rein in medical costs, 2019 marked a win for the health care industry, which saw those efforts falter and the year-end spending bill lock in $373 billion in tax cuts.

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Another big health care bill was Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi eyes end of April to bring a fourth coronavirus relief bill to the floor Pelosi, Democrats using coronavirus to push for big tax cuts for blue state residents US watchdog vows 'aggressive' oversight after intel official fired MORE's (D-Calif.) measure to cut drug costs, the Lower Health Care Costs Act, which saw 287 lobbying clients, for seventh on the list. The House passed the bill but the measure was not taken up by the Senate as bipartisan efforts on drug costs deadlocked. Some provisions from the bill, including raising the tobacco buying age to 21, were included in the year-end spending bill.

One bill which received less national attention but saw K Street racking up contracts was the White Sands National Park Establishment Act. 563 clients hired lobbyists to work on the House version and 466 clients brought on lobbyists to work on the Senate version. Those bills took second and fourth place on the list, respectively.

The bill, introduced by New Mexico Democrats Sen. Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichDemocrats call for pollution reduction requirements in any aid for airlines, cruises Coronavirus takes toll on Capitol Hill GOP chairman cancels Hunter Biden-related subpoena vote MORE and Rep. Xochitl Torres Small in March, would designate White Sands in southern New Mexico a national park. It was ultimately included in the National Defense Authorization Act, which passed in the Senate last week and Trump signed into law.

Formerly White Sands National Monument, the new national park is expected to help the local economy thanks to tourism and recreation. Also, the legislation included a provision that involves a land exchange between White Sands and the U.S. Army’s military testing area, the White Sands Missile Range.

Lockheed Martin filed 13 lobbying disclosures on the House version of the bill, Verizon had 12, General Dynamics 11, Bae Systems 10, and AT&T, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon, among others, had nine. Lockheed hired the same number of lobbyists for the Senate version of the bill while General Dynamics had 10, and Bae Systems, Raytheon and Verizon had nine. 

Another appropriations bill, the Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Act came third on the list, with 530 clients hiring lobbyists to work on the House version.

Defense is consistently a hot issue area for lobbyists and this year 290 clients hired lobbyists to work on the Department of Defense Appropriations Act in the House. 

The House version of the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act and the Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act were the eightth and 10th most lobbied bills this year.

H.R. 1, the House’s wide-ranging bill that includes electoral and campaign finance reforms, was the ninth most lobbied bill of 2019. 270 clients hired lobbyists to work on the legislation. It passed the House in March but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPelosi eyes end of April to bring a fourth coronavirus relief bill to the floor Progressive group knocks McConnell for talking judicial picks during coronavirus Overnight Health Care: CDC recommends face coverings in public | Resistance to social distancing sparks new worries | Controversy over change of national stockpile definition | McConnell signals fourth coronavirus bill MORE (R-Ky.) did not take it up in the Senate.

One issue which also dominated K Street was trade, likely to be prominent once fourth quarter contracts are out. The House last week passed the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Senate is expected to pass the bill next year after Trump's impeachment trial.