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A principal at the McCormick Group, Ivan Adler specializes in government relations and public affairs for the executive search firm. A former staffer for then-Sen. Al Gore (D-Tenn.), Adler is also a member of the board of directors of the American League of Lobbyists. One day after the midterm elections put Democrats in control of the House and Senate, Adler sat down with Legal Times Joe Crea at the Palm Restaurant to discuss the future direction of K Street, lobby reform, and the new Democratic majority.
LT: So we have a Democratic majority in the House and a Democratic majority in the Senate. How does K Street respond? ADLER: Although the Republicans are going to wear black for a couple of days in mourning, in reality, change is good. Change is very good for the lobbying business because when Democrats take over or Republicans take over, any kind of change means that people need somebody that understands what the change means and how it affects them.
LT: You’re a recruiter on K Street. What now happens to your business? ADLER: I think what is going to happen is that you are going to have people who don’t want to work in the minority. Republicans have been in office now for 10 years after a long hiatus, and there are folks that just don’t want to work in the minority. I think that they understand the power that the majority has. And they look at what the Republicans have done from a procedural point of view to the Democrats and certainly don’t want to be in a position where that is happening to them. So they will then choose to move on.
LT: What happens to the Democratic staffers and K Street’s interest in them now that they are in the majority? They’ve been in the minority for 12 years. Is now the best time for them to leave? ADLER: I think that the stereotype is that now that the Democrats have it, they are big government anyway and wouldn’t mind working for the government. The reality of it is that there are some who are in a position now where they have families, they’ve worked on the Hill for a while, and they see this as an opportunity to cash in, if you will, due to the fact that the Democrats now hold the majority. And some will. No doubt.
LT: What committee members are likely to be busy now that the Democrats hold the majority? ADLER: I think anybody involved in the health care issues, and there are a lot of committees that have that, will be very involved. One of the things that the Democrats said they wanted to do is change. They recently signed into law the Medicare Act and opened up bidding for pharmaceuticals. Obviously, there’s a lot of money interest involved in that, and anybody involved in the health care side will be very, very busy.
LT: What are some of the other issues that will be of interest to K Street now that the Democrats have the majority? ADLER: You can talk about taxes. People say taxes will be an issue. That [New York Rep. Charlie] Rangel, now head of Ways and Means, will make policy changes. I’m not so sure that they want to do anything to affect the economy, especially coming into 2008′s presidential election. I think what you’re going to see is, and they’ve made it very well known, that they are going to use their power of oversight to go back and look at three main issues that they feel Republicans have misused. And that’s obviously the war in Iraq — there will be great oversight on that — how the money was spent, who the contracts went to, how those decisions were made towards [Hurricane] Katrina, and I think that those will be the two biggest things. With that being said, I think that there will be broad oversight. I think they’re going to use their subpoena power to go back now. I think it’s going to be difficult, even though they now control both houses, to be able to pass real substantive legislation. They don’t have the numbers to override a veto. My guess is that Bush is going to use the veto pen more; they can’t overturn that. The majorities are very slight in the Senate and the newer [Democratic] members that came in are more conservative, frankly, than the Democratic leadership.
LT: What kind of challenge does that pose for the Democratic caucus? ADLER: I think they are going to obviously run into some very outspoken liberals in the leadership. [California Rep. Nancy] Pelosi and [Nevada Sen. Harry] Reid are to the left of a lot of those new members who were elected yesterday.
LT: Some of the exit polls have indicated that corruption and ethics were on the minds of voters. What does it say about lobby reform, now that the Democrats have the majority? ADLER: There is a lot of talk that they are now going to take a hard look at changing some of the rules. Let’s see if they can get that passed. It gets a little complicated. There are obviously rules that exist now that were in place during [Jack] Abramoff, and he has been prosecuted to the full extent of the law by the Justice Department for breaking laws that exist now. So there is a question of whether or not we really need a lot of legislation to control us.
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