Trade takes over K Street as lobbyists take aim at Trump tariffs

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Countless businesses and trade groups are lobbying Congress and the Trump administration over Trump’s tariffs and potential trade deals. (via Flickr)

Trade is all the rage on K Street.

A whopping 723 clients lobbied on issues of tariffs and trade, along with various bills related to trade issues and specific trade deals, in the first quarter of 2019.

That follows an all-time record in 2018 for the number of groups lobbying on trade — nearly 1,300 clients — and the momentum hasn’t slowed as the Trump Administration continues its aggressive trade policy.

The wide-reaching impacts of trade and potential trade deals means effectively every industry has deployed lobbyists on the issue.

Auto manufacturers continue to lobby the Trump administration in an attempt to prevent new tariffs on imported cars. General Motors spent $3.8 million in the first quarter, up from $3.1 million this time last year. Trump recently suggested tariffs on cars imported from Mexico, where GM manufactures several mainline vehicles. The industry also continues to push back on steel and aluminum tariffs that increase the cost of manufacturing cars.

The process for companies to be excluded from steel and aluminum tariffs enacted under Section 232 has drawn criticism from senators who have called for an investigation into how the Commerce Department decides whether to grant an exclusion. The process has confused steel producers, sparking $3.4 million in spending in 2019 that builds on record lobbying from last year. Companies ranging from North American Stainless to Anheuser-Busch InBev to Harley Davidson lobbied on the issue of Section 232.

The air transport industry experienced a big jump in 2019, spending $26 million, up $1.8 million from last year, as air freight companies fret over Trump administration plans to impose tariffs on $11 billion in imports from Europe in retaliation to EU subsidies to Airbus. FedEx spent $2.8 million, up from $2.5 million from this time last year, as its CEO blames tariffs for weak profits in the shipping industry.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce stayed consistent, shelling out $22 million. The group continues to push the Trump administration to remove steel and aluminum tariffs and is actively urging the preservation and modernization of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Groups lobbied over several bills regarding tariffs, including the Import Tax Relief Act and Bicameral Congressional Trade Authority Act — which would give Congress authority over Section 232 tariffs — in the first quarter.

The trade war has spurred businesses, farmers and interest groups to form new coalitions to directly appeal to the Trump administration and Congress to alleviate trade woes.

The Pass USMCA Coalition, a group of trade associations and businesses led by the Chamber, has aired TV ads and Facebook ads urging swift passage of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

A massive coalition of anti-tariff groups representing various industries sent a letter to Trump this week urging the administration to come to a deal with China that will eliminate tariffs on U.S. businesses and farmers.  

Defense contractors, big pharma start 2019 lobbying season strong

Eager to get involved with the 2020 budget process, defense contractors are opening up their pocketbooks.

Northrop Grumman shelled out $5.6 million, similar to last year and significantly more than the $2.8 million spent in the fourth quarter of 2018. United Technologies also upped its year-over-year spending by nearly $1 million, to $5.1 million. Both cracked the top 10 clients in the first three months of 2019. The companies recently touted classified contracts with the Pentagon — including a $3.2 billion contract for Northrop Grumman.

Emergent BioSolutions, known best for its anthrax vaccine, spent an all-time high $1.6 million. The Maryland-based company continued to lobby on reauthorization of the recently-expired Pandemic and All Hazards Preparedness Act, a 2006 law that established funding for development of countermeasures against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats. Emergent BioSolutions has been awarded several government contracts for its anthrax medication, including a $448 million contract in 2007.

 

Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) spent just over $10 million, building on its record 2018 lobbying spending as the industry faces unprecedented pushback over drug prices and the opioid crisis. The pharmaceutical/health products industry spent $86 million, significantly more than the industry spent over the final quarters of 2018 and roughly equivalent to this time last year.

Several of the groups spending the most on lobbying — PhRMA, American Medical Association, American Hospital Association and Blue Cross/Blue Shield — are part of a coalition aiming to flatten progressive Democrats’ Medicare for All proposal. Representing private insurers, America’s Health Insurance Plans, also part of the coalition, increased its spending to nearly $2.9 million in 2019, up from $2.3 million.

Groups tend to spend most generously on lobbying in the first quarter. Overall 2019 was the second biggest first quarter since 2010.

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