For Now, Lobbyists Play by Bush's Rules

Article excerpt

It didn't take Earl Pomeroy long to figure out that the Bush tax cut was on a fast track through the House - with big-time lobby power behind it.

Phone calls and e-mails asking the North Dakota Democrat to send a big part of the surplus back to taxpayers started rolling in only hours after the president's budget address last week. And many sounded alike, a clear sign of an organized lobbying effort.

But while this grass-roots blitz is gaining ground, an even greater sign of the bill's strength can be seen in the lobbying that isn't going on - on behalf of the business community.

Since President Bush's plan offers little in the way of corporate tax breaks, many in Washington expected businesses would quickly move to pile on additional cuts - possibly going so far as to hurt the bill's chances of success. But so far, corporate lobbyists have shown surprising restraint.

It's yet another sign of the administration's firm hand - and shrewd maneuvering - in getting its supporters to fall in line. And while the real tax fight will undoubtedly come later in the Senate, the Bush team appears to have sidestepped, at least for now, the GOP temptation to lard the bill.

"We're supporting the president's tax package," says Mark Bloomfield, president of the American Council for Capital Formation, which has organized the drive for corporate tax breaks since 1974.

"We also support additional pieces that would be consistent with support of the president's proposals. But we won't do this until the president's plan gets through," he says. "Otherwise, there might be a feeding frenzy, and the president's bill would be jeopardized."

Empty seats

Last week, most of the seats in the cavernous Ways and Means Committee room were empty. Usually, a vote on a $958 billion tax bill would turn out K Street in force, with everyone from ranchers to restaurateurs to silicon-chip manufacturers looking to add a few lines to the tax code that will help their business.

"When there are tax breaks, the line usually goes around the corner," says a Democratic committee staffer.

But so far, the White House is holding the line with businesses that this bill must focus on lowering tax rates for individuals. In fact, the administration has even won agreement from big industry groups to do some of the heavy lifting to get the bill through Congress - clean - and to hold off on their own agendas until the Bush tax plan passes.

So far, the strategy is holding. Business lobbyists have been meeting with the GOP House leadership to coordinate strategy on the plan. And lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say they are not seeing a lot of special-interest pleading to expand the tax cut for business.

"So far, I haven't been lobbied on this at all. It will all be coming in the next tax bill," says Rep. Nancy Johnson (R) of Connecticut, a leading member of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Ironically, while the public has been cool to the idea of a big tax cut, the corporate world is not. …