Lobbyists Swarm as Congress Prepares Massive Aid Bill

Coronavirus crisis could be a bonanza for industries with the right kind of influence. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The coronavirus pandemic has created an unprecedented and (most shocking of all) bipartisan urgency about countering the dire economic consequences just on the horizon. And nary a soul is fretting about budget deficits or fiscal discipline in the emergency, now that a trillion-dollar relief bill is being prepared for action in the Senate (in consultation with the House). With the Trump administration already calling for direct assistance not just to us regular schmoes in the population but to big, hungry businesses affected by the crisis, congressional Republicans are losing whatever inhibitions they might have about corporate subsidies poisoning the pure heavenly operation of free markets. As Politico reports, lobbyists have been lining up at the trough with variable success — and, for that matter, merit:

Senate Republicans raced this week to introduce a trillion-dollar coronavirus stimulus package. Lobbyists for industries left reeling by the pandemic were hustling just as hard to shape it.

The bill’s unveiling on Thursday capped an extraordinary week on K Street in which trade group after trade group asked Congress for sums that would have been unfathomable just a few weeks ago: $1.4 trillion to shore up the manufacturing sector, $4 billion for museums, $100 billion for doctors, nurses and hospitals.

The Senate’s breakneck work to craft relief legislation this week has driven a frantic effort from industries crippled by measures taken to slow the spread of the virus as well those who have suffered less harm.

If you like to cheer for villains in movie melodramas, perhaps you can empathize with the poor lobbyists who have been denied their usual communications avenues (such as, well, actual lobbies) in the emergency and must rely on a reputation for owning an inside track to the powerful:

Lobbyists’ inability to meet with lawmakers and administration officials face to face hasn’t stopped them from trying to cash in on their connections.

“Have you adjusted your consultant strategy and team lineup in light of the new Corona virus realities?” the lobbyist Terry Allen wrote in an email to potential clients on Thursday morning. “Fidelis Government Relations now has best in class reach into both VP Mike Pence and incoming White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.”

A New York Times report on the “gold rush” for federal largesse notes the intense competition, as “businesses enduring undeniable dislocation jostling with more opportunistic interests to ensure they get a share.” The term “trough” for the feeding process is especially appropriate for some would-be beneficiaries:

Then there are the pig farmers. They are citing coronavirus in renewing their call for the federal government to expedite foreign worker visas, with an executive at the National Pork Producers Council noting in an email “many Americans have experienced empty meat cases in recent days, as we adapt to the surge in demand.”

Industries with a superior claim to relief are angry at those trying to cut in line:

Sean Kennedy, an executive at the National Restaurant Association, said the flurry of lobbying in recent weeks has complicated the efforts of groups like his seeking Washington’s support to prop up struggling industries. Many restaurant owners, facing lengthy closures, are laying off their staffs and are fearful of their survival if the crisis goes on for an extended period.

“The challenge for us is that there are people who are using this crisis as a way to revisit past legislative battles that have nothing to do with coronavirus or the people suffering from it,” Mr. Kennedy said. “It’s offensive to the American people.”

It will be interesting to see if House Democrats can exhibit a bit more self-discipline — or shame — before this legislation reaches Trump’s desk, where he will in any event take credit for saving the economy.

Lobbyists Swarm as Congress Prepares Massive Aid Bill