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Lobbyists Adjust To GOP Majority On Capitol Hill


Speaking of politics and winners and losers, lobbyists in Washington, D.C., are busy adjusting to Republican control of the House and Senate. Meanwhile, some departing lawmakers are also adjusting, moving downtown to join lobby firms. NPR's Peter Overby reports.

PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: Lobbyist Nicholas Allard has a story for this occasion. It's about his late boss, the master lobbyist Tom Boggs. Allard says a reporter contacted Boggs for a story much like this one. It was 1980 when Republicans took the Senate and White House.

NICHOLAS ALLARD: The morning after the Reagan landslide, he was asked by one reporter what he expected business to be like. And he said, I don't know. I've only been a Republican for 12 hours.

OVERBY: Boggs adapted, and so will today's lobbyists. Allard says the biggest changes don't even come from last fall's election, but from the way congressional leaders have amassed power.

ALLARD: We're moving away from a national legislature to a - more like a parliamentary system.

OVERBY: That means the leaders, not committees, make the decisions.

ALLARD: Which means that you're lobbying on a grand scale and affecting the electorate in general, with somewhat of a de-emphasis on the classic face-to-face lobbying.

OVERBY: Other lobbying forecasts predict more lobbying on familiar topics, such as the Keystone XL pipeline. Republicans have legislation to build the pipeline. President Obama says he'll veto it. That could lead to override votes. But whatever happens, it's new tactics on the same, old issue.

SCOTT SEGAL: The energy industry has had a fairly consistent set of asks.

OVERBY: Energy lobbyist Scott Segal says the industry has higher hopes for this new Congress.

SEGAL: I don't think it's going to change what we do. It may change the art of what is possible at the end of the day.

OVERBY: Even in a Republican Congress, lobbyists will need to court Democrats, too. Heather Podesta is happy to point that out. She runs her own small Democratic firm.

HEATHER PODESTA: The power of the Congressional Black Caucus has really grown.

OVERBY: In fact, she says CBC members are expected to be the top-ranking Democrats on 17 House committees and subcommittees.

PODESTA: Corporate America has to have entree into those offices. And we're very fortunate to have the former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus as part of our team.

OVERBY: And lobby firms aren't the only ones making plans. Former lawmakers and congressional staffers are job hunting, and lobbying jobs pay far better than Capitol Hill. So far this year, at least three former lawmakers have already signed with lobbying law firms. Longtime Utah Senator Robert Bennett went through that revolving door four years ago. He likes the access he's got.

ROBERT BENNETT: Yes, as a former member, you probably get a warm reception when you call one of your colleagues.

OVERBY: But, he says, if you don't bring good, reliable information...

BENNETT: Your axis doesn't do you any good at all.

OVERBY: It's all a matter of finding where the lawmakers' goals match those of your client - in other words, same as it ever was. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.


TALKING HEADS: (Singing) Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: January 11, 2015 at 10:00 PM MST
In a previous audio version of this story, Robert Bennett was identified as a former senator from Idaho. In fact, Bennett represented Utah. Also, control of the House did not shift to Republicans after the 1980 election, as we originally stated; Democrats still held the majority.
Peter Overby has covered Washington power, money, and influence since a foresighted NPR editor created the beat in 1994.
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