“A lot of people have asked my advice,” he added. “Unfortunately none of them are customers yet. I have to work a little harder.”
As it becomes clearer that reconciliation bills are the primary vehicle for moving anything through Congress, lobbyists have explored the intricacies of the process. You have sent memos to customers advising them on how to use voting to their advantage. A lobbying firm, ACG Advocacy, held a briefing on reconciliation for the firm’s customers days after the Democrats won the Georgia Senate runoff – far from making sure they would try to pass bills through reconciliation without Republican votes – , attended by around 150 people. At least one lobby firm has spoken to former MPs to better understand the process.
Lobbyists have been keeping an eye on Democratic lawmakers and progressive interest groups, who have tried to use reconciliation as aggressively as possible, while Democrats control the White House and both houses of Congress.
“You will really do everything that is permissible under reconciliation,” said a Republican lobbyist who has advised clients in the process.
Lobbyists expect Biden’s upcoming infrastructure package – which will likely be passed through reconciliation – much more likely than his Covid-19 aid package, which was also passed with reconciliation, to trigger a potential gold rush for K Street.
“Everyone is working on it,” said Jeff Forbes, a former Democratic Senate employee who co-founded the lobbying firm Forbes Tate Partners. “It soaks up all of the oxygen in DC.”
The call for reconciliation competence on K Street is another indication of how the legislative process in Washington has collapsed. The Senate has only passed five laws since taking office, one of them through reconciliation. While lobbyists are still being hired to help shape the legislation that traditionally moves through Congress, much of the action is increasingly being limited to a few massive bills.
This also applies to Democrats and their allies, who have campaigned for the Biden government to seek reconciliation to achieve an increasing number of priorities, including immigration reform carried out by members of the Hispanic Caucus of Congress pressed Biden last week.
Unions have been working to figure out what aspects of the law protecting the right to organize through reconciliation they can pass, according to a person familiar with the matter.
And Senate Democrats who failed to convince the parliamentarian to approve an increase in the federal minimum wage in Biden’s Covid Aid Act haven’t ruled out trying again.
While Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) Would prefer to raise the minimum wage without resorting to reconciliation, “it is important to plan for all eventualities, so I keep looking for other ways to raise workers’ wages” he said in a statement to POLITICO.
Reconciliation lobbying is different from trying to form invoices that are handed over in the regular order. Lobbyists not only have to win over the legislature, but also the parliamentarians – priorities that can sometimes be tense.
“If you get MP’s approval but lose two Democratic votes, you are just as far from getting what you want,” said Ryan McConaghy, former senior adviser to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who is now a lobbyist .
Some lobbyists warned that the Democrats’ tight margins in the House and Senate are at least as important as a factor in lobbying for the infrastructure bill such as reconciliation.
“Something can fit into the reconciliation, and if five Democratic senators don’t like it, it won’t happen,” said Al Mottur, a senior Democratic lobbyist at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck.
The dynamic can work in favor of lobbyists if they try to keep something out of the infrastructure package instead of including it. Unless Republicans vote for the package, something all lobbyists must do to neutralize a determination of a client’s views as a threat is to ensure that at least one Democratic senator strongly opposes it.
Corporations and trade groups seeking definitive answers on whether their priorities can make it into the infrastructure package if it is passed through reconciliation are likely to be disappointed. While the Byrd Rule – which governs what can be included in reconciliation bills – clearly allows some things and blocks others, lobbyists say there are many gray areas.
“For many things, it is impossible to say definitively whether a reconciliation law would work or not,” said Sarah Abernathy, a lobbyist at ACG Advocacy, who jointly hosted a call to inform her company’s customers of the reconciliation.
The process can be so unpredictable that some lobbyists and advocates have argued they might as well push for what they want without worrying about whether their requests become Byrd-Kot – the rough term for provisions that not be approved by the parliamentarian.
“Reconciliation is a subjective, capricious process disguised as an objective policy-making mechanism,” wrote Aaron Belkin, director of legal advocacy group Take Back the Court, in an email to POLITICO. Belkin co-authored a 16-page memo to Schumer earlier this month in which he argued that reconciliation could add hundreds of new federal judges to Democrats.
While it is impossible to predict how the MP will govern, he continued, “All democratic reforms that cost or raise money are a fair game for the budget vote.”
With reporting by Sam Stein