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Another Podesta Firm Heather Podesta, a former legal and legislative counsel to Blank Rome and principal at Blank Rome Government Relations, has started her own lobbying practice. Heather Podesta + Partners opened on Jan. 1 with a handful of her old clients, including Edison Schools, CIGNA Corp., Aramark, and SAP America Inc. Joining her in the new venture is Laura Joshua, a former government relations analyst at Blank Rome who represented the Oregon cities of Gresham and Portland. Podesta, a Democrat, says she’s always wanted to have her own business, and a number of factors, including the Democratic victories in the 2006 midterm election, made the decision easier. Her move comes on the heels of another high-profile Blank Rome departure, that of Barbara Comstock, a former Department of Justice spokeswoman. With Podesta and Joshua out the door, few Democrats remain at the Republican-heavy Blank Rome, aside from Peter Peyser and James Drewry (who has worked for both Democrats and Republicans). Of course, staking out your own territory on K Street is made all the easier when you have handsome connections. Podesta’s brother-in-law, John Podesta, was the former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton and now is president of the liberal think tank Center for American Progress. And her husband, Anthony, is head of Podesta Group, where his clients include the state of New Mexico, General Electric Co., and Lockheed Martin Corp. — Joe Crea
Wage War The 41 percent increase in entry-level wages Democrats are pushing would “make a wicked heavy toil” on small companies that strive to compete with the big guys, according to Dave Ratner, a lobbyist for the National Retail Federation who also owns a small pet store in Agawam, Mass. Ratner was one of several witnesses who testified before the Senate Finance Committee last week to support tax incentives for smaller companies in the wake of Democratic-led legislation to increase the minimum wage. That’s why business lobby groups, backed by Republicans, are hoping to strong-arm Senate Democrats into passing a bill that would do more than simply hike the federal minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25. Unlike the House version, which passed by a 315-116 vote on Jan. 10, the Senate’s minimum-wage bill would give billions of dollars in tax breaks to businesses that would have to fork over the increased wages to their employees. Business lobbies such as the Small Business Council of America and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce say the trade-off between tax incentives and a higher minimum wage is necessary for any wage hike to be successful. It is the only way smaller companies would be able to deal with the change, they argue. And business lobbyists seem confident the trade-off will happen in the Senate. “There are currently no provisions to help small businesses in the House bill,” says Marc Freedman, director of labor law policy at the Chamber. And tax breaks aren’t the only add-ons business lobbyists are seeking. Provisions are also being sought that would allow small businesses to recover attorney fees when they successfully challenge any type of government action that lands them in court, Freedman says. Other lobbyists, however, say new tax breaks for businesses go too far. “Such provisions are unwarranted given the extensive tax cuts to businesses both small and large over the past decade,” says Jared Bernstein, senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute. Bernstein says profits to the nation’s businesses have soared recently while “many working families have been left behind.” — Osita Iroegbu
One More The National Association of Broadcasters has hired another Republican, Jonathan Collegio, the former press secretary for the National Republican Congressional Committee. Collegio will shepherd the association’s campaign to alert the public about the transition from analog to digital broadcasting, which is set to take effect Feb. 18, 2009. Working under Collegio will be Myra Dandridge, the former communications director for the Congressional Black Caucus, and Lale Mamaux, the former communications director for Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.). Handling media for the campaign is Shermaze Ingram, a former TV reporter. David Rehr, the Republican head of the broadcasting association, has been criticized for his aggressive lobbying style and a failure to reach out more to Democrats. Two Democratic Hill staffers say the new Dem hires are small potatoes compared to Collegio and do little to change the NAB’s recent reputation of hiring primarily Republicans. — Joe Crea
• AFTER DARK • Nuke at Night The all-Republican lobby shop Barbour Griffith & Rogers last week feted the passage and signing into law of the Henry J. Hyde United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act of 2006 at a reception held at the Columbus Club at Union Station in the District. The act, a bilateral agreement adopted last December, allows the United States to sell technology to India for civil nuclear power and commits India to separating its nuclear facilities used for civilian purposes from its military facilities. Andrew Parasiliti, vice president of Barbour Griffith’s international practice, says his firm has represented India since September 2005 and worked to see through passage of the act, named after the recently retired Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), the former chairman of the House International Relations Committee. Robert Blackwill, the former U.S. ambassador to India and current president of Barbour Griffith & Rogers International, also lent his muscle to the act. Attending last week’s celebration was Ronen Sen, the Indian ambassador to the United States; R. Nicholas Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs; Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; and Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), who is the new chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Officials from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which lobbied for the act’s passage, also attended, as did Graham Wisner, of counsel at Patton Boggs, who specializes in international trade and transactions. And expanding its global interests, Barbour Griffith recently tapped Stephen Rademaker, the former policy director for national security affairs and senior counsel to former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), as a vice president. — Joe Crea
• HEARD ON THE STREET • • “The for-sale sign on Congress will be taken down to ensure that the people’s business and not special interests’ business will be done.” — Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), during his first floor speech on ethics reform • “I think the time has come for earmarks, and for holds as well, to stop the anonymity, give them the full light of day; for members who produce earmarks to be willing to defend them and that when earmarks are placed in the dark of night by a member, they would be subject to a 60-vote point of order.” — Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), on increasing transparency • “People wouldn’t elect me senator from Mississippi if they thought I could be had for a meal. Plus, the meals you have up here are not any good, anyway. You can’t get black-eyed peas up here. You can’t get really good, properly prepared catfish up here. It is outrageous. So my point is, I am insulted by the accusation. Get rid of the gifts and meals and get that perception off the table. You are not giving up much, anyway. I would rather go home and have dinner with my wife. That is what more of us ought to do.” — Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), on the Senate floor during the ethics reform debate Jan. 9

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