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Date: Tue, 18 Dec 2001 09:32:40 -0500
From: Ruben Safir
Subject: [hangout] Lobby NOW - Congress Open For Business
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December 18, 2001
Lobby Groups Find Congress in Giving Mood
By ROBERT PEAR
ASHINGTON, Dec. 17 - Congress is dispensing last-minute legislative
it adjourns for the year, and lobbyists for special interests have
lined up with a long list
of requests, some of which raise major questions about the proper role of
government in a
Flight schools, skydiving companies, manufacturers of small aircraft and
operators of small
airports are seeking a $7.5 billion package of grants and loans to
compensate them for business
lost since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. A House subcommittee
approved the legislation,
the General Aviation Reparations Act, last week.
Shipbuilders, having just won an increase in the federal subsidies that
President Bush tried to
abolish, are now asking Congress to defer income taxes they owe on
payments for the building
of Navy ships.
Not every proposal will become law, but some have been enacted and others
are well on their
Boeing, for example, has persuaded the Senate to approve a plan under
which the Air Force
would lease 100 new wide-body Boeing jets for use as refueling tankers, at
a cost of $20
million a year for each plane - up to $20 billion over 10 years. House and
are expected to endorse the plan this week.
The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association is lobbying Congress to limit
the liability of
health insurance companies that review and pay claims for the federal
Medicare program. The
House last week passed legislation that grants some but not all of the
insurers' request, and
they are pressing their case in the Senate.
Southern growers of catfish have persuaded Congress to restrict imports of
similar fish from
A cellphone company, NextWave Telecom Inc., is urging Congress to
authorize a cash
payment of $5.8 billion to the company to help settle litigation over
cellular licenses that it
obtained in 1996 and 1997. NextWave, which filed for bankruptcy protection
in 1998, and its
investors have deployed a small army of lawyers and lobbyists to persuade
Congress to ratify
the deal. Haley Barbour, former chairman of the Republican National
a large group of investors.
NextWave says Congress must act by Dec. 31 or the deal could fall apart.
administration says the settlement is in the public interest because it
would transfer the
NextWave licenses to other mobile phone companies that could use them to
But Senators Ernest F. Hollings, the South Carolina Democrat who is
chairman of the
Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, and John McCain of
senior Republican on the panel, denounced the proposal as special-interest
"This thing is an outrage," Mr. Hollings said. "They've put a gun to our
heads and said, `Do it
by Dec. 31.' " Mr. McCain said Congress was being asked to make "ransom
benefit NextWave and its investors, executives and lobbyists.
Several factors help explain the large number of proposals for aid.
Congress is in session later
than it has been in years and has become an inviting target for lobbyists.
The economy was
soft before Sept. 11, but the events of that day have galvanized
industries into action.
The travel industry is one of many seeking federal aid in the aftermath of
the Sept. 11 attacks.
Representative John Shadegg, a conservative Republican from Arizona, is
pushing the Travel
America Now Act, which would allow a $500 tax credit for personal travel
Representative Patsy T. Mink, a liberal Democrat from Hawaii, has
introduced a bill that
would allow people to take tax deductions for travel to destinations at
least 500 miles from
"People are not traveling," Ms. Mink said. "Congress needs to give the
public incentives to
The reparations bill, approved last week by a House Energy and Commerce
would provide $2.5 billion in grants and $5 billion in loan guarantees for
entities," including aircraft manufacturers, flight schools and skydiving
Lobbyists for these companies cite a $15 billion aid package for airlines,
signed by Mr. Bush on
Sept. 22, as a precedent, and their message is being heard on Capitol Hill.
"Congress acted swiftly to provide the major airlines with needed relief
to keep that industry
going," said Representative John L. Mica, Republican of Florida, the
author of the bill
approved last week. "Now it should do the same for general aviation."
Edward Scott, director of government relations for the United States
said skydive operators suffered financial losses because they were
grounded for more than a
week in September. "They deserve eligibility for federal financial
assistance," Mr. Scott said.
Insurance lobbyists helped write the legislation that limits the liability
of their employees, who
review and pay Medicare claims filed by doctors and hospitals. The House
Commerce Committee drafted the bill in September but made changes to
address concerns of
the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.
The legislation authorizes the government to reimburse insurance companies
settlements and legal expenses incurred in lawsuits related to their work
contractors. The inspector general of the Department of Health and Human
Rehnquist, objected to some of the language in the bill, saying it "would
not fully protect the
Medicare trust fund from misconduct" by contractors.
At least eight Medicare contractors have paid more than $275 million to
the government to
settle charges that they made improper payments, altered documents, hid
files and backdated
The new Air Force program to lease aircraft from Boeing is included in the
Department appropriations bill. "In this bill," Mr. McCain said, "we find
a sweet deal for the
Boeing Company that I'm sure is the envy of corporate lobbyists."
But Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, where Boeing has major
plants, said the arrangement was entirely defensible. She said the deal
would not only help
Boeing, which has laid off thousands since Sept. 11, but also enable the
Air Force to replace
an aging fleet of KC-135 tanker aircraft, used heavily in the war in
The agriculture appropriations bill, signed by Mr. Bush on Nov. 28,
severely restricts the
import of Vietnamese fish that compete with American catfish. Lawmakers
Alabama, Arkansas and Louisiana say Vietnamese basa fish are being dumped
on the market.
Senator Tim Hutchinson, Republican of Arkansas, said the Food and Drug
had improperly let basa fish be labeled and sold as catfish. "The American
consumer is being
purposefully confused, and our domestic farm-raised catfish industries are
on the brink of
bankruptcy due in large part to the massive exports from Vietnam," he
Mr. McCain said the import restrictions had been slipped into the bill at
the behest of
"wealthy catfish growers" in the United States and were "a troubling
example of the
parochialism we have urged the Vietnamese government to abandon" in its
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