Infrastructure push sets off feeding frenzy in Washington

Seasoned lobbyists said the package could spark the most intense lobbying effort in history, efforts to shape President Barack Obama’s 2009 stimulus bill, President Donald Trump’s tax revision in 2017, and even the massive relief bills passed during the pandemic to put it in the shade.

“This basically pales the American rescue plan in comparison,” said Arshi Siddiqui, a former advisor to House spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi, who is now a lobbyist at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, referring to the Covid-19 aid package that Biden had just signed in March.

The proposal has already triggered a lobbying bonus.

So many potential clients have turned to the law firm and lobbying firm Holland & Knight that some of them have had to be turned away, said Rich Gold, the firm’s head of public policy and regulation. The scope of Biden’s proposal is broad enough that there are few industries that fail to try to weigh it up.

“Look at the map,” he said. “Shouldn’t everyone be lobbying this bill?”

On Capitol Hill, progressive Democrats are calling on the Biden government to spend more on fighting climate change and realizing the goals of the Green New Deal. A small but growing group of Blue State Democrats vow to oppose the package unless it lifts Trump-era restrictions on state and local tax deductions. Almost 60 other Democrats are in both houses Call for an investment of around $ 100 billion in public housing.

And Senate Minority Chairman Mitch McConnell warned that if it included tax hikes and deficit spending, he was “unlikely” to endorse the package – an indication of where much of the Republican caucus will end up. Trump also spoke out against it, calling it a “classic globalist betrayal” that would benefit lobbyists and special interests.

The White House, meanwhile, has paved the way for intense debate by leaving the door open for changes on both the investment and revenue sides, noting that there is more time to negotiate than the $ 1.9 trillion expensive coronavirus relief plan.

“We welcome ideas,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on MSNBC Wednesday morning. When “Republicans have ideas, other Democrats have ideas on how to pay for this package in different ways and how to achieve the goals.” am very open to it. “

Pelosi has privately told Democrats that she hopes the package can get through the house by July 4th – a schedule that would require a frenzied six-week sprint of drafting and counting. Some senior Democrats have already warned that the timeline could slip.

Biden will propose another series of infrastructure investments in mid-April, some of which will focus on the care industry, and then start new lobbying work.

While the White House is still pushing for Republican support to pass the infrastructure package, it is widely expected on Capitol Hill that it will only get through Congress if the Democrats can do it through reconciliation – and they could this year only have one shot to use this tactic. This has put pressure on some legislators to ensure that their priorities are addressed in this bill.

“The process begins today,” said former Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, who at the beginning of his tenure played a leading role in the debate on Obama’s stimulus package and was in contact with current transportation chief Pete Buttigieg.

“The leadership in Congress will start working with members and figuring out what they like and what they don’t like,” he said, “and trying to shape the kind of legislation that will get hundreds of thousands of people back to work.” . ”

Lines of battle are also drawn in the private sector. Have 16 environmental and work groups got together to ask the White House for $ 4 trillion in infrastructure investment to be spent during Biden’s first term – far more than the $ 2 trillion the government is proposing over eight years.

And some of the trade groups that have been pushing Congress to invest in infrastructure for years still disagree with Biden’s proposal. The US Chamber of Commerce welcomed the focus on infrastructure and strongly criticized the tax increases proposed to cover costs.

Bill Sullivan, executive vice president of advocacy for the American Trucking Associations, praised Biden’s willingness to invest in infrastructure and said the trading group would not comment on the proposed tax increases until it finishes its analysis. But “our members are really upset about some of the advanced parts of this bill,” he said.

These provisions include the Pro Law, which would make it easier for workers to form trade unions and extend the right to collective bargaining to include independent contractors.

Those working to influence Congress over the bill may include some of Biden’s former Senate colleagues. Former Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), Who served in the Senate alongside Biden for a decade and is now a lobbyist, criticized the proposed tax increases in her role as advisor to the RATE Coalition, which includes companies like AT&T, FedEx , Lockheed Martin, Toyota, Verizon and the Walt Disney Co.

“American employers will struggle to build better than global competitors like China with an even higher corporate tax rate,” she said in a statement.

It will be impossible to please every group, given the conflicting requirements and the scope of priorities that the White House and lawmakers are trying to address. The challenge will be to include enough sweeteners without weighing down the broader effort and even alienating centrist Democrats, whose voices will be vital to the transition.

“Legislative sausage-making here is going to be chaotic,” said Philip Howard, who has written extensively on the infrastructure and advised both parties, including the Trump administration, on the issue. “There are too many stakeholders who all want their piece of the pie and they are suggesting that we raise taxes to pay for all of this. And the people who have to pay the taxes are not going to support it – especially if it is what a Christmas tree looks like. “

Ed Mortimer, who leads the US Chamber of Commerce’s infrastructural work, stressed that the proposal is only the beginning of a process that has to pull through Capitol Hill. He said the chamber would not only oppose increasing corporate tax as a payment, but would also advocate thinning the bill on the margins.

“There are parts of it that, in our view, traditionally were not what we saw as infrastructure. They are commendable, but we really focus on what a federal context is for a central infrastructure view,” said Mortimer. “That is a point of discussion we’ll have with people who are evolving. “

He said the chamber was open to climate change provisions, adding, “The business community wants to be part of this solution. We’re going to have some differences in how we get there, but I think it’s a good thing. “

Sarah Ferris, Sam Mintz, and Nicholas Wu contributed to this report.

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