Monday, April 12, 2021

“Infrastructure” Bill Prompts “Feeding Frenzy” by DC Lobbyists

Regardless of whether President Biden’s “infrastructure” plan passes, gets watered down, or fails entirely, it will undoubtedly have major “green” effects. It has already empowered and emboldened the swamp creatures who inhabit Washington’s K Street and other corridors of power, as they seek access to the even larger piles of federal cash that the Biden administration wants to spend.

Politico recently reported on the “feeding frenzy” by lobbyists to get part of the action. Mere hours after the plan’s release, the publication noted that “the proposal has already spurred a lobbying bonanza.” It’s another example of the rich—well-heeled corporate lobbyists—getting richer as government expands further under the new administration.

‘Stimulus’ for K Street?

One lobbyist quoted in the article noted so many companies have approached his firm that he had to turn some of them down. He added: “Look at the plan…Shouldn’t everybody by lobbying this bill?”

The ramp-up in lobbying stems from two linked characteristics of the latest policy package. For one, the proposals Biden has released expand the definition of “infrastructure” nearly to the breaking point, including school construction, veterans hospitals, long-term care, electric vehicles, and much more besides.

The White House will also release a subsequent package including more proposals to expand welfare programs, with activists on the left like Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., pushing Biden to include many health-care provisions in that package. Between the two proposals, and the tax increases being considered to pay for them, practically every industry in Washington has something to ask Congress to include—or exclude—from the legislation.

Christmas Tree?

Another element prompting the free-for-all: The possibility that this package could serve as the last realistic chance to enact Biden’s big-government agenda. Even after the Senate’s parliamentarian reportedly advised that Democrats can pass multiple budget reconciliation bills this year—which would be an unprecedented act—legislative time and bandwidth still remain short.

Democrats currently have control of the House and Senate by some of the narrowest margins in the past century. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., must rely on Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote to pass legislation on a party-line basis in the Senate, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., can afford to lose no more than three Democratic votes in her 200-plus member caucus to pass party-line legislation in the House.

As a result, vulnerable lawmakers might not want to pass or have the votes to pass major legislation, particularly tax increases, months before a midterm election with control of both chambers of Congress hanging in the balance. Also, any non-reconciliation bills will require 10 Republican votes to win enactment under “regular order” in the Senate, giving the GOP significant leverage to demand bipartisan compromise.

In other words, the “infrastructure” package, even if broken up into more than one bill, could become the last train leaving the proverbial station, with substantive legislating coming to a halt by year’s end. That knowledge adds to the level of desperation, potentially turning it into a “Christmas tree” bill with myriad unrelated provisions packed into thousands of pages of legislation.

Earmarks and ‘Sweeteners’?

Politico noted Democrats’ challenge: To “includ[e] enough sweeteners without weighing down the broader effort,” and alienating the votes necessary for passage. A related problem Democrats could face: Preventing those “sweeteners” from creating a public backlash similar to that faced by backroom deals (Cornhusker Kickback, anyone?) when Democrats used those deals to ram Obamacare through on a party-line vote.

Therein lies the pernicious nature of House Republicans’ recent vote to bless earmarks’ return. Engaging in requests for earmarks and “sweeteners” on this package would make Republicans complicit in Democrats’ big-government expansion, even if procedural obstacles prevent Democrats from including traditional earmarks in an “infrastructure” bill passed via budget reconciliation.

To Shrink Corruption, Shrink Government

Democrats try to talk a good game about restoring confidence in government. But at its core, reducing corruption in government requires reducing the federal government. It should come as no surprise that K Street booms while government explodes under the Biden administration, or that the Washington suburbs boast some of the richest counties in the country, their incomes fattened through lucrative government jobs and contracts.

Draining “the Swamp” involves draining the money—and power—out of Washington. But given Biden’s focus on expanding government, and expanding dependence on government, crony capitalism only seems likely to grow further over the next four years.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.