Democrats, Lobbyists Cozy Up For More Spending

February 24, 2011

White House, Democrats Avoid Transparency in Secret Dealings with Special Interests


A report out today details the extensive steps White House officials are taking to disguise the Obama administration’s relations with lobbyists, going so far as to hold meetings off-site to prevent them from appearing in White House visitor logs:


“Caught between their boss’s anti-lobbyist rhetoric and the reality of governing,President Barack Obama’s aides often steer meetings with lobbyists to a complex just off the White House grounds – and several of the lobbyists involved say they believe the choice of venue is no accident….


“The White House scoffs at the notion of an ulterior motive for scheduling meetings in what are, after all, meeting rooms. But at least four lobbyists who’ve been to the conference rooms just off Lafayette Square tell POLITICO they had the distinct impression they were being shunted off to Jackson Place – and off the books – so their visits wouldn’t later be made public.” (Chris Frates, “Lobbyists: White House Sends Meetings Off-Site to Hide Them,” Politico, 2/24/2011)


The news follows a The New York Times story last year detailing the White House’s frequent meetings with lobbyists at an off-site Caribou Coffee to keep the meetings secret:


Here at the Caribou on Pennsylvania Avenue, and a few other nearby coffee shops, White House officials have met hundreds of times over the last 18 months with prominent K Street lobbyists — members of the same industry that President Obama has derided for what he calls its ‘outsized influence’ in the capital.


“But because the discussions are not taking place at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,they are not subject to disclosure on the visitors’ log that the White House releases as part of its pledge to be the ‘most transparent presidential administration in history.’


The off-site meetings, lobbyists say, reveal a disconnect between the Obama administration’s public rhetoric — with Mr. Obama himself frequently thrashing big industries’ “battalions” of lobbyists as enemies of reform — and the administration’s continuing, private dealings with them.” (Eric Lichtblau, “Across From White House, Coffee With Lobbyists,” The New York Times, 6/24/2010)


As the White House was working to cloak its dealings with lobbyists, Senate Democrats were far more explicit in rallying lobbyists with a “call to arms” against spending cuts:


“In an e-mail obtained by ABC News, a top staffer for the key Senate Appropriations subcommittee called for a meeting of lobbyists and interest groups that would be affected by expected cuts to the Labor and Hea[l]th and Human Services budget. The Jan. 24 meeting was attended by approximately 400 people, sources told ABC, and served as a “call to arms” for those determined to fight Republican budget cuts….


“Another source familiar with the meeting said Democrats used the meeting as ‘an attack on House Republicans.”


“They said these evil House Republicans are here and they’re going to kill all these programs that support little kids, senior citizens, and health care,” the source said. “They’re trying to instill the fear of God that Republicans are basically going to blow up all these programs, kill these programs, defund them.” (Jonathan Karl and Matthew Jaffe, “Lawmakers Rally Lobbyists in ‘Call To Arms’ For Upcoming Spending Fight,” ABC News, 2/4/2011)


Since then, Democrats have refused to agree to any spending cuts in FY ’11 funding:


ZERO HOUSE DEMS VOTE FOR SPENDING CUTS: Final Vote: 235-189 (Roll Call Vote 147, 2/19/2011)


SENATE DEMOCRATS REJECT STOP-GAP MEASURE: “Senate Democrats rejected Tuesday a House Republican leadership proposal to extend government funding for two weeks past March 4, the date when current funding expires.


“House Republicans want the short-term bill to cut $4 billion in government spending during those two weeks – a prorated figure based on the more than $60 billion in spending cuts the House passed for the rest of this fiscal year.” (Ted Barrett and Deirdre Walsh, “Senate Democrats Reject House GOP Proposal for Short Term Spending Measure”, CNN, 2/23/2011)


PRESIDENT OBAMA: “President Obama warned of stopped Social Security checks and issued a formal veto threat Tuesday to the Republican spending plan currently being debated in the House, setting the stage for a potential government shutdown next month.” (Chris Stirewalt, “Obama Issues Government Shutdown Threat,” Fox News, 2/16/2011)


No wonder observers are dubbing Obama the steward of a “status quo presidency”:


President Obama has chosen to play the political equivalent of the prevent defense as his reelection campaign approaches by deferring tough decisions on entitlements.


“His budget made no attempt to change the Medicare and Social Security programs, and barely made a dent in spending cuts.” …


“Obama said in his State of the Union address that he wants to ‘win the future,’ buthis policies remain stuck in a 20th-century mindset defending a strained government entitlement system and public-sector unions.” (Josh Kraushaar, “The Status Quo Presidency,” National Journal, 2/22/2011)