Infrastructure push sets off feeding frenzy in Washington

3

.cms-textAlign-left{text-align:left;}.cms-textAlign-center{text-align:center;}.cms-textAlign-right{text-align:right;}.cms-magazineStyles-smallCaps{font-variant:small-caps;}

President Joe Biden has laid down his opening bid on infrastructure: a sprawling and ambitious $2 trillion plan designed to rebuild the country’s roads and bridges, expand access to clean water and broadband and create what he says will be millions of jobs.

Now everybody wants a piece of it.

The White House’s rollout of the biggest infrastructure package in at least five decades has sparked a lobbying frenzy in Washington, a mad dash among lawmakers and lobbyists to weigh in on the legislation and sway the Biden administration to include their pet projects or exclude the corporate tax hikes they don’t want to pay. The early jockeying for influence over the plan portends a fierce debate about the details that could last much of the year, if not longer.

Veteran lobbyists said the package could spark the most intensive lobbying effort in history, dwarfing the efforts to shape President Barack Obama’s stimulus bill in 2009, President Donald Trump’s tax overhaul in 2017 and even the massive relief bills passed during the pandemic.

“It will make the American Rescue Plan basically pale in comparison,” said Arshi Siddiqui, a former aide to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who’s now a lobbyist at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, referring to the Covid-19 relief package Biden signed only in March.

The proposal has already spurred a lobbying bonanza.

So many would-be clients have reached out to the law and lobbying firm Holland & Knight that it’s had to turn some of them away, said Rich Gold, the leader of the firm’s public policy and regulation group. The scope of Biden’s proposal is broad enough that there are few industries that won’t try to weigh in on it.

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

On Capitol Hill, progressive Democrats are urging the Biden administration to spend more to combat climate change and tackle the goals of the Green New Deal. A small but growing group of blue-state Democrats is vowing to oppose the package unless it repeals Trump-era limits on state and local tax deductions. Nearly 60 other Democrats in both chambers are calling for a roughly $100 billion investment in public housing.

And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell warned that it’s “not likely” he will support the package if it includes tax increases and deficit spending — an indication of where much of the Republican caucus will land. Trump also came out against it, calling it a “classic globalist betrayal” that would benefit lobbyists and special interests.

The White House, meanwhile, has set the stage for intense debate by leaving the door open to changes on both the investment and revenue-raising side, noting there will be more time to negotiate than there was on the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan.

“We’re welcoming ideas,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on MSNBC Wednesday morning, adding that if “Republicans have ideas, other Democrats have ideas on different ways to pay for this package, on different ways to achieve the goals, we’re very open to that.”

Pelosi has privately told Democrats that she hopes the package can pass the House by the Fourth of July — a timeline that would require a frenetic six-week sprint of drafting and vote-counting. Some senior Democrats have already cautioned that the timeline could slip.

Biden will also propose another set of infrastructure investments focused in part on the caregiving economy in mid-April, launching a fresh lobbying effort then.

While the White House is still pushing for Republican support to pass the infrastructure package, there’s widespread expectation on Capitol Hill that it will only make it through Congress if Democrats pass it on their own through reconciliation — and they might only have one more shot this year to use that tactic. That has amped up pressure among some lawmakers to ensure their priorities are addressed in this bill.

“The process begins today,” said former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who played a leading role during the debate over Obama’s stimulus bill at the start of his term, and who has been in touch with current Transportation chief Pete Buttigieg.

“The leadership in Congress will begin to work with the members and figure out what they like, what they don’t like,” he said, “and try to fashion the kind of legislation that will put hundreds of thousands of people back to work.”

Battle lines are being drawn in the private sector as well. Sixteen environmental and labor groups have teamed up to ask the White House for $4 trillion in infrastructure investments to be spent over Biden’s first term — far more than the $2 trillion the administration is proposing over eight years.

And some of the trade groups that have pressed Congress for years to invest in infrastructure aren’t yet on board with Biden’s proposal. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce applauded the focus on infrastructure while strongly criticizing the tax increases proposed to cover the cost.

Bill Sullivan, the American Trucking Associations’ executive vice president for advocacy, praised Biden’s willingness to invest in infrastructure and said the trade group wouldn’t take a position on the proposed tax hikes until it finished analyzing them. But “our members are really upset about some of the progressive pieces of this bill,” he said.

Those provisions include the Pro Act, which would make it easier for workers to form unions and extend collective bargaining rights to independent contractors..

Those working to sway Congress on the bill might include some of Biden’s onetime Senate colleagues. Former Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), who served alongside Biden in the Senate for a decade and is now a lobbyist, criticized the proposed tax hikes in her role as an adviser to the RATE Coalition, which includes companies such as AT&T, FedEx, Lockheed Martin, Toyota, Verizon and the Walt Disney Co.

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

Satisfying every group will be impossible, given the conflicting demands and the sheer scope of priorities the White House and lawmakers are trying to address. The challenge will be including enough sweeteners without weighing down the broader effort and alienating even centrist Democrats whose votes will be pivotal to passage.

“The legislative sausage-making here will be messy,” said Philip Howard, who has written extensively on infrastructure and advised both parties, including the Trump administration, on the subject. “There are too many interest groups, all wanting their piece of the pie, and they’re proposing to raise taxes to pay for all of this. And the people who are going to have to pay the taxes are not going to support it — particularly not if it looks like a Christmas tree.”

Ed Mortimer, who leads the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s infrastructure policy work, emphasized that the proposal is just the start of a process that will have to work its way through Capitol Hill. He said in addition to opposing the corporate tax hikes as a pay-for, the Chamber will advocate for thinning the bill around the margins.

“There’s parts of this that in our view haven’t been traditionally what we have viewed as infrastructure. They’re meritorious, but we’re really focusing on what’s a federal nexus for a core infrastructure view,” Mortimer said. “That’s a discussion item we’re going to have with folks moving forward.”

He said the Chamber is open to provisions addressing climate change, adding: “The business community wants to be part of that solution. We’ll 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.

View original post