Lobbyists make a mad dash to shape coronavirus stimulus package

Not everyone got what they wanted in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s bill. But it wasn’t for lack of trying.

“The Hill appears to be overwhelmed with people advocating for why they’re uniquely affected by the coronavirus epidemic,” said Sean Kennedy, the top lobbyist for the National Restaurant Association, which asked Congress for more than $300 million in relief this week.

The restaurant association has mobilized its members to make tens of thousands of phone calls to their lawmakers. With many restaurants shuttered to slow the virus’ spread, their proprietors have had plenty of free time to become armchair lobbyists, Kennedy said.

Other lobbyists have pleaded their clients’ cases to a handful of aides to top Republican senators, such as Erica Suares in McConnell’s office and Nick Rossi, who’s chief of staff to Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican.

Some lobbyists for industries hit hard by the restrictions imposed by coronavirus were underwhelmed by what they got in McConnell’s bill: $58 billion in loans and loan guarantees for the airlines and another $150 billion for other “severely distressed sectors” of the economy, as well as nearly $300 billion in loans for small businesses.

“We think it will be insufficient to stem the tide of job loss and closing of hotels that we’re seeing, candidly,” said Brian Crawford, the top lobbyist for the American Hotel & Lodging Association. “We’re hoping this is an opening salvo.”

“It needs to be bigger,” said Tori Barnes, the top lobbyist for the U.S. Travel Association, even though she praised of the measures it includes.

The hotel and travel industries personally pleaded their cases to President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence in a meeting at the White House on Tuesday, warning that the industry could shed millions of jobs in the coming weeks without significant help. The hotels asked for $150 billion in grants, along another $100 billion for the broader travel industry.

McConnell’s bill would force hotels and the travel industry to compete with restaurants, casinos, distillers, moving companies and manufacturers — all of which have asked for aid this week — for $150 billion in loans.

The legislation will need the support of Senate Democrats to pass, giving lobbyists for industries that feel they’ve gotten short shrift another chance to shape the bill before senators leave town in the coming days.

Not every industry lost out in McConnell’s bill. The airlines, which asked for $59 billion in cash, loans and loan guarantees, got $58 billion in loans. Nick Calio, the head of Airlines for America, the industry’s trade group, said the money will keep the airlines going for five to six more months.

“We have been hit the hardest of anyone by this,” he said in an interview.

The National Retail Federation, meanwhile, secured a tweak to the Republican tax law that it had been pressing for since shortly after its passage in 2017. The fix would return an estimated $15 to $30 billion to hotels, restaurants and retailers that have upgraded their properties over the past two years but haven’t gotten a tax break for it, according to the trade group.

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