Archive for September, 2015

Boehner’s Departure Felt on K Street

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015 by Matthew Barnes

On Friday, September 25, 2015 Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) made the surprise announcement that he plans to resign from the U.S. House of Representatives at the end of October, not only sending shockwaves throughout the Capitol, but also down K Street. Such was the surprise of Boehner’s announcement that the Minority Leader, Representative Nancy Pelosi, reportedly “learned about Mr. Boehner’s resignation when she read a breaking news alert on a staff member’s phone.”

Following Speaker Boehner’s announcement the National Corn Growers Association president Chip Bowling released a statement saying,  “We are grateful for Speaker Boehner’s leadership in so many areas, including service on the House Agriculture Committee, and his work for a more transparent and productive Congress.” Other lobbyists, such as Gary Shapiro, the president of the Consumer Electronics Association, shared their reactions via social media tweeting, “Boehner resigning. Sad. Decent honorable man in a near impossible job.”

Many up and down K Street are lamenting Boehner’s retirement. Roll Call reports, “He [Boehner] had a very close relationship with K Street —  that’s just kind of how it is,” said John Feehery, a former House GOP aide who worked for Boehner’s predecessor, J. Dennis Hastert, and is now a lobbyist. “McCarthy’s got a lot of good contacts on K Street, too.”

Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is considered to be the most likely Representative to take over as the Speaker of the House, the top position in the House and fourth in the line of succession to the presidency. According to Sam Geduldig, a partner at the CGCN Group and former senior Boehner aide, “Boehner will absorb criticism for whatever deal is cut, in order for the Republicans to have a better opportunity to win the White House in 2016, and give McCarthy the fresh start he needs to be effective.”

Politico Influence reports that the departure of Speaker Boehner has provided the opportunity for some of his senior staffers to make the move over to K Street, with some already in early discussions. “Top picks include chief of staff Mike Sommers, floor director Anne Bradbury, and policy director David Stewart, according to a PI tipster. Assistants to the speaker for policy Brad Baileyand Cindy Herrle, assistant floor director Lydia Calio, and member services director Trevor Kolegoare also being discussed.”


Pope Francis, President Obama and the Catholic Lobby

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015 by Matthew Barnes

The arrival of Pope Francis in Washington, D.C. has been one of the most anticipated events in recent memory. Many thousands of people are expected to gather across the city to see and hear the head of the Catholic Church in his first ever visit to the United States. The excitement for Pope Francis extends across the city and into the chambers of congress where the pope will address members of our legislature before a joint session on Thursday. Anticipation levels are so high that congressional leadership will employ some extraordinary measures during the pope’s visit. To enforce discipline among the members, “each party is assembling teams of lawmakers to essentially act as blocking tackles, willing to restrain any of their colleagues intent on trying to reach out for a papal touch as he walks onto the floor of the House. And after the historic speech, the doors to the cloakrooms and the hallways will be blocked — and in some cases, locked — to prevent lawmakers from leaving the chamber for perhaps half an hour, until Francis has appeared on a West Front balcony to greet the ticketed throng and then departed the Hill by motorcade” reports Roll Call.

Moreover, the Washington Post reports that the Pope’s U.S. visit will produce one of the largest and most extensive security operations in U.S. history. According to the Post, “The U.S. Secret Service is in charge of coordinating the massive intergovernmental operation on counterterrorism operations, crowd management, crisis response and air and vehicle traffic control. The FBI, Capitol Police, Coast Guard, Pentagon and Federal Emergency Management Agency are closely involved in the planning, along with local police departments.”

On Wednesday, in his first full day in Washington, D.C., the pope will start the day with a welcoming from President Obama at the White House. The president and Pope Francis have a strong working relationship and share similar views in some key policy areas. U.S. News reports, “Both want governments to increase their commitments to the poor and the unfortunate, such as immigrants. And Francis supports reducing lengthy prison sentences for people convicted of lesser offenses, which is part of Obama’s agenda. Francis also backs Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran.”

The two world leaders also share very similar views on climate change, which has had a significant impact on the influential Catholic lobby in the United States. The Washington Post reports, “In August, when President Obama took the podium in the East Room to announce his plan to curb greenhouse gas emissions, standing behind him was Sister Joan Marie Steadman, head of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the nation’s largest group of Catholic nun leaders.” In speech President Obama “thanked her [Sister Joan Marie Steadman] for helping ‘rally Catholic women across America to take on climate.’”

In an interesting article titled, “Catholic lobby flexes its muscle ahead of Pope Francis’s visit” the Washington Post profiles the Catholic lobby in the United States and it is well worth a read while enjoying Pope Francis’ historic visit.

A Salty Reaction to Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act Reauthorization

Wednesday, September 16th, 2015 by Matthew Barnes

With the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act up for re-authorization this month the salt lobby has reignited the battle over national sodium standards for school meals. The aforementioned act requires schools to reduce “per-lunch maximum sodium levels from 1,230 milligrams in elementary school, 1,360 mg in middle school and 1,420 in high school to 935, 1,035 and 1,080, respectively, by 2017. They would be lowered again to 640, 710 and 740 by 2022” according to The Hill.

The reduction of sodium in school meals is a part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative. The goals of the First Lady’s initiative are “solving the challenge of childhood obesity within a generation, so that children born today will grow up healthier and able to pursue their dreams. Combining comprehensive strategies with common sense, Let’s Move! is about putting children on the path to a healthy future during their earliest months and years. Giving parents helpful information and fostering environments that support healthy choices. Providing healthier foods in our schools. Ensuring that every family has access to healthy, affordable food. And, helping kids become more physically active.”

However, leaders from the salt industry dispute the science behind reducing sodium levels. Lori Roman, the president of the Salt Institute has said, “There is absolutely no scientific basis for any population-wide sodium reduction strategy…Studies show, left to ourselves, we will naturally seek out the safe range. What I worry about is the captive people — the kids in schools, who are getting more than one meal a day or maybe one of their only meals of the day, and elderly people in nursing homes, who are put on low-sodium diets for no reason,” reports The Hill.

Furthermore, in a statement to The Hill, School Nutrition Association (SNA), President Jean Ronnei has said, “Schools are committed to reducing the sodium in school meals and snacks, but the later sodium reduction mandates are unrealistic for schools, let alone families, and will force healthy choices off the menu.”

Complicating re-authorization, in March Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) introduced S.1146, the Healthy School Meals Flexibility Act which would “prohibit the Department of Agriculture (USDA) from implementing any regulation that would require a reduction in the quantity of sodium contained in federally reimbursed meals, foods, and snacks sold in schools below specified July 2014 maximum levels allowed in school breakfasts for school year 2014-2015.” However, Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) is working to finish the re-authorization package of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act for a committee markup on Thursday.

The NFL’s Lobbying Blitz

Wednesday, September 9th, 2015 by Matthew Barnes

As the NFL gets ready to kick-off the 2015 season on Thursday with an intriguing match-up between last year’s Super Bowl champions, The New England Patriots, and the Pittsburg Steelers, the league is also preparing for a lobbying blitz on the Hill. The NFL has had a turbulent off-season plagued by headline grabbing stories such as the now infamous “deflategate,” player safety and criticisms of both on and off field violence in the sport.

The NFL is no stranger to the world of lobbying; it is the only major sports league to have its own full time lobbying shop in Washington, D.C. The NFL’s lobbying efforts are led by Cynthia Hogan, a former attorney to Vice President Joe Biden. Politico reports that Hogan said the “NFL would be briefing the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Senate Commerce Committee on player safety and pro football’s new efforts to pay for research into head injuries” in a series of closed-door meetings.

Hogan and the rest of the NFL’s lobbying team certainly will certainly be kept busy for the near future facing challenging issues on multiple fronts from members of Congress. For example, “several Democratic senators have led the charge, from Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein demanding a “zero-tolerance policy” for players who commit domestic violence to Maria Cantwell and Harry Reid pressuring Goodell into taking a stand on whether the Redskins should drop their mascot,” according to Politico.

One of the most significant legislative priorities for the NFL is the protection of the league’s antitrust exemption. Politico reports, this exemption, which congress granted for all of the major professional sports leagues, allows “their teams to work and negotiate in concert, something most other industries can’t do”. In the past this exemption has been the target of some lawmakers who seek to use the league’s exemption as leverage against the NFL to force the league to become more accountable for issues such as player safety. For example, in the 113th Congress Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) introduced S.2974 or the Sustained Promotion Of Responsibility In Team Sports (SPORTS) Act. The SPORTS Act, according to Sen. Blumenthal, “would sunset the four major professional sports leagues’ (NFL, MLB, NHL, NBA) permanent anti-trust exemption, and replace it with an every-five-years reauthorization conditioned on the leagues acting consistently with the public trust their special status requires… Ninety-five days before each exemption is scheduled to sunset, a special commission, composed of heads of Executive Branch offices with jurisdiction over issues relevant to the leagues, will provide Congress with a report regarding the leagues’ behavior. In particular, the Commission’s report will discuss how the leagues have treated their employees and how they have responded to inappropriate conduct by their employees and owners. The Commission’s report will ensure that before Congress decides whether to grant the leagues a public benefit—their antitrust exemptions—it has access to a thorough, fair, and honest assessment of whether the leagues have served or harmed the public interest.”

On April 28th, 2015 Sen. Blumenthal said he plans to re-introduce the SPORTS Act in the 114th Congress.

Nevertheless, as the NFL continues its lobbying efforts on the Hill, Hogan reminds us that “It’s a long road, and it’s not one that we think we’re at the end or we’ve somehow fixed everything, but we made really, really significant changes, and I think that we went from a place where we were not doing everything we could do to really being in the lead of what a private entity can do in this area.”