POLITICS
04/07/2011 04:49 pm ET | Updated Jun 07, 2011

Lobbyists Unperturbed By Government Shutdown Brinkmanship

WASHINGTON -- K Street lobbyists aren't too worried about a possible government shutdown this weekend. They anticipate a short one, at most -- and nothing, in any case, that will significantly disrupt their work.

"I don't think it's really going to affect us personally, or our business model," said Robert L. Livingston, lead partner of the Livingston Group and a former Republican congressional leader.

"Most lobbyists work on a monthly retainers," he explained. "We think in terms of fiscal years and long-term cycles, so the absence of Congress, or even the government, over a few days really won't make much difference to lobbyists."

Steve Elmendorf, principal of Elemendorf Strategies, said all the shutdown talk has been a distraction. "I think that, to the extent it is taking decision-makers' focus away from what else Congress should be doing, it's obviously slowing things down."

Congress and the White House both suffer from limited attention spans, Elemendorf said. "So nobody's sitting around talking about other bills."

But that may be the new normal in Washington, he said.

Even assuming the shutdown crisis passes quickly, Congress will be in recess for the second half of April. And when it returns, it will be time to debate raising the debt limit. Elemendorf said he expects "a month or two of similar 'Perils of Pauline' brinksmanship about the debt limit that will divert everyone's attention again."

The city's undisputed lobbying leviathan is doing what it can to make a shutdown less likely. Tom Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is reportedly leaning on the Republican members of Congress who are reluctant to make a deal.

"No one wins if the federal government has to suspend some or all of its services even for a short time," Chamber spokesman J.P. Fielder wrote in an email to The Huffington Post. "In the past week, the Chamber has been encouraging lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to get a deal done to prevent a shutdown. This recommendation isn't partisan, but it is prudent. The Chamber feels there's a lot of work to do in Washington to create jobs and keep the economy going."

But by and large, lobbying against the shutdown is a waste of time, said Elmendorf. "If you did have a client interest, nobody cares," he said. "It's going to be decided on much bigger political and substantive dynamics than any one company, industry or group of companies."

The subject comes up, said Michael Herson, president of American Defense International -- but only in passing. "When we talk to members," he said, "we're like, 'you can't do this, right?' But it's beyond their control."

Herson said that even if the government does shut down, it won't change his plans much, as so many congressional staffers are likely to be deemed "essential" by their bosses.

"If they're all essential and they're all there, then I still have my meetings next week," he said.

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