Top donors to Super Committee House Dems lobby for Defense and Medicare funding

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A replacement for the Space Shuttle, tax breaks for personal injury attorneys, two nuclear powered submarines and bigger Medicare reimbursements for some specialists and drugs are among the lobbying wish lists of the top career donors to the three House Democrats on the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, otherwise known as the super committee.

As we noted in our previous posts on the three House Republicans, the three Senate Democrats and the three Senate Republicans on the super committee, the dozen members all have private interests backing them who are far more concerned with their own bottom lines than they are with broad public policy. Those interests might come into play as the members of the super committee craft $1.5 trillion in debt reduction measures–spending cuts, revenue increases, or both–that can win a majority of their votes.

We went through the most recent lobbying disclosures for each of the top five donors to the three Democratic House members of the super committee, all appointed by Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and highlighted one or two issues that might come up as the members consider ways to cut spending, raise revenues–or both. Not every big donor had an identifiable interest that might figure in the committee's work, but these filings were made before the bill that authorized setting up the super committee had been passed into law.

Two of the labor unions among the top donors, the United Auto Workers and the International Machinists and Aerospace Workers Union, lobbied for continued Defense Department spending; the latter, a top donor to Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., also lobbied for full funding for a replacement for NASA's space shuttle program. Those priorities differed from another top Clyburn career donor–the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME. That union lobbied against cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, two programs that train and benefit nurses, and other domestic spending.

Lobbying disclosures for large organizations can list dozens or even hundreds of bills and issues that they try to influence or monitor, and the big donors to super committee members are no exception. The companies, trade groups, universities, labor unions and other organizations whose political action committees, employees and their family members have contributed the most to the dozen members charged with addressing the nation's debt lobby on a wide range of issues. Here are a few:

Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C.: The assistant leader to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D. Calif., a new position she created for him when the Democrats lost the majority in the House, served as majority whip when Pelosi was Speaker. His top career donors, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, include the United Parcel Service, AT&T, the trial lawyer trade group American Association for Justice, and two labor unions, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

  • United Parcel Service: The private delivery firm lobbies on a measure that would affect its taxpayer-supported rival, the U.S. Postal Service, which is struggling with a $9.2 billion deficit this year, according to the New York Times. UPS also lobbies on tax issues including dividend and capital gains legislation. According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, the two year cut to capital gains taxes extended in 2010 and set to expire in 2012 reduces federal revenues by more than $25 billion, while the two year dividend rate cut costs more than $27 billion.
  • AT&T: While much of AT&T's lobbying has been focused on its pending takeover of T-Mobile from Deutsche Telekom, the company has many other issues before federal regulators and Congress. Its lobbying disclosures list numerous bills with tax consequences that the company is following, ranging from a bill that would exempt repatriated offshore earnings from federal corporate income taxes to measures that would extend research and development tax breaks or change taxes on telephone service providers. AT&T also has a huge interest in government health programs–the company took a $995 million charge in additional tax payments stemming from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, including taxes on "Cadillac" health care plans, changes in Medicare Part D, and mandates for covering retirees. AT&T is also following a bill that would repeal a not yet enacted provision of a 2006 law, the Tax Increase Prevention and Reconciliation Act, that would require federal agencies, state and local governments with expenditures of more than $100 million to withhold taxes amounting to 3 percent of the payments they make to outside vendors of goods and services costing more than $10,000.
  • American Association for Justice: The trade group for trial attorneys–who generally charge their clients nothing while representing them, instead sharing whatever monetary awards they win from defendants–is lobbying for tax changes that would allow expenses and court costs paid by attorneys in contingency cases to be tax deductible. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimated in 2008 that, over ten years, such deductions would cost the Treasury more than $1.5 billion.
  • The International Machinists and Aerospace Workers Union: IAMAW, part of the AFL-CIO, represents workers in government jobs and in the automotive, transportation and of course aerospace industries. The union lobbies on a number of issues, including reauthorization of the NASA budget. In an alert sent to members, IAMAW called on them to contact their members of Congress and request full funding for a replacement program for the space shuttle, despite the fact that no viable replacement vehicle has been designed. The original shuttle program cost $196 billion over 40 years, according to the Associated Press.
  • AFSCME: The union for state, county and municipal workers lobbies on a host of bills and issues, ranging from bankruptcy rules for states and cities (money owed to union pension benefit funds by state and local governments could potentially be discharged in a bankruptcy proceeding), the budget ceiling, Medicare and Medicaid reforms, issues and funding for programs affecting nurses and prison guards, corporate tax issues including tax free repatriation of foreign earnings AFSCME opposes the proposal.) They continue to lobby on the issue of taxing health benefits–a provision to do so was included in the Affordable Care Act, though implementation was delayed. AFSCME opposes taxing such benefits; the Congressional Research Service estimated that the tax would raise more than $148 billion between 2013 and 2018.

Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif. First elected in 1992, Becerra is vice chair of the Democratic Caucus and the ranking member of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security. Like Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, Becerra served on the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, better known as the Bowles-Simpson Commission, that was charged with developing a plan to deal with the nation's long term debt. His biggest career donors are the American Association for Justice, the United Parcel Service, two unions–the United Auto Workers and the United Food and Commercial Workers–and a second professional organization, the American Society of Anesthesiologists.

  • American Association for Justice: See profile above.
  • United Parcel Service: See profile above.
  • United Auto Workers: Formed in the 1930s, the union, which in addition to auto workers represents workers in aerospace and agricultural manufacturing and professional workers in health care, higher education and the media, lobbied on trade agreements, the debt ceiling, immigration, and other issues. The UAW also lobbies on Defense appropriations, including funding for the alternate engine for the joint strike fighter. In 2010, the UAW released a "Dear Representative" letter, in which they outlined some of the defense spending measures they supported: $1 billion for the alternate engine over ten years, $5.1 billion for two Virginia-class submarines, and $1 billion for new Stryker vehicles.
  • United Food and Commercial Workers Union: Representing workers in food processing, packing and retailing, the UFCW lobbies on food safety, healthcare and other issues. The union's lobbying disclosure also notes that its representatives, "Met with Department of the Treasury regarding tax issues," but does not disclose more specifics.
  • American Society of Anesthesiologists: The professional organization lobbies on a range of issues, including Medicare payments to anesthesiologists; the organization, citing research by the General Accounting Office, argues that reimbursements are a third less under Medicare than from private insurers.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. First elected in 2002, Van Hollen quickly rose in his party's ranks. In 2006, after they took the majority of seats in the House, Pelosi named him "assistant to the Speaker," a newly created position; he also led the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the fundraising arm for House Democrats. Van Hollen's top career contributors are lobbying firms Arent Fox and Arnold and Porter, defense contractor AEPCO, which is now part of a British defense contractor, employees of the Dept. of Health and Human Services and the American Association of Justice.

  • Arent Fox LLP: The firm, which has eight former government officials on its payroll, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, lobbies for a number of clients, with the most frequently cited issue federal budget and appropriations. Its clients include Watson Pharmaceuticals, for which it lobbies on medicare reimbursements for oncology drugs, the Tennessee Technological University, which is seeking federal funding from several legislative bills, and Seedco Financial Services, which lobbies on federal funds for development.
  • Arnold & Porter: Like Arent Fox, Arnold & Porter lobbies for a wide range of clients, but disclosed education as an issue on more reports than any other. As noted above, lobbying disclosures can often be vague, and Arnold & Porter's give little idea of what the specific lobbying issues of their clients. For example, they disclose that they are lobbying on "issues related to higher education student lending," for the Texas Guaranteed Student Loan Corporation, a nonprofit created by the Texas legislature to provide loans and other assistance to university and college students, but what issues are not made clear by the filing. Similarly, Texas Tech University retained Arnold & Porter to lobby on issues related to higher education and research funding, and Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America hired the firm to lobby the Internal Revenue Service on "issues related to various health care reform proposals."
  • AEPCO: Neither AEPCO nor its parent, VT Group, has lobbied the federal government since 2008. Their parent, Babcock International Group, does not lobby the U.S. government either.
  • Dept. of Health and Human Services: Government agencies do not register to lobby Congress, though obviously their officials frequently interact with members. HHS's budget for fiscal year 2012 called for $892 billion in outlays, of which 54 percent went to Medicare and 30 percent went to Medicaid.
  • American Association for Justice: See profile above.