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Lobbyists have ties to debt panel

| Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2011

WASHINGTON -- Like many federal contractors, General Electric has a lot riding on the work of a new congressional supercommittee, which will help decide whether to impose massive cuts in defense and health-care spending.

But the Connecticut-based conglomerate also has a potential advantage: A number of its lobbyists used to work for members of the committee, and will be able to lobby their former employers to limit the impact of any reductions in the weeks ahead.

GE is hardly alone: Nearly 100 registered lobbyists who used to work for members of the supercommittee now represent defense companies, health care conglomerates, Wall Street banks and others with a vested interest in the panel's outcome, according to a Washington Post analysis of disclosure data.

The preponderance of lobbyists adds to the political controversy surrounding the supercommittee, which will begin its work in earnest this week as Congress returns to Washington. The panel has already come under fire from watchdog groups for planning its activities in secret and allowing members to continue fundraising while they negotiate a budget deal.

"When the committee sits down to do its work, it's not like they're in an idealized, platonic debating committee," said Bill Allison, editorial director of the Sunlight Foundation, which is tracking ties between lobbyists and the panel. "They're going to have in mind the interests of those they are most familiar with, including their big donors and former advisers."

The 12-member committee is tasked with identifying $1.5 trillion in long-term spending reductions by Thanksgiving, with a final plan to be approved by Congress. If no deal is reached, however, $1.2 trillion in across-the-board cuts will be triggered beginning in 2013, with the amount evenly divided between defense and non-defense programs.

The sheer scale of the trigger plan has set off something close to panic on K Street, as many of the nation's largest industries face reductions in potential revenue from federal programs.

"Everybody in the Western world will be trying to influence the supercommittee at the same time," said Loren Thompson, a defense industry consultant at the Lexington Institute. "If it was constructed to scare the daylights out of the political system, it's certainly done the job."

At least eight GE lobbyists used to work for members of the supercommittee, including the firm's chief lobbyist on Capitol Hill, according to the Post analysis, which drew on data from the Center for Responsive Politics, lobbying disclosure forms and other public records.

GE officials declined repeated requests for comment.

Overall, two-thirds of the lobbyists with committee ties are Democrats, records show.

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