The Tax and Spend Spectator

Tough Nuts Roasting Under Friendly Fire

Business at this suburban D.C. company has been great -- but what if Congress cuts its lifeline?

By 12.1.11

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It has been a very good year for the company, its various spokesmen tell me. Yes, everyone else may be hurting but orders for their product are up, they are expanding capacity and they are hiring workers too. Even relations with the unions are good. The future -- well, their future anyway -- is bright.

I learn this while sipping wine at a reception the company is throwing at its swank northern Virginia offices to mark its good fortune. What is the point of being successful if you cannot brag about it to reporters? And when have reporters ever turned down an open bar?

The only thing that can spoil the good times, I'm told repeatedly, is Congress.

No, burdensome regulations are not the issue. Nobody at the party is worried about that. And nobody talks about the economy sliding further downhill either because it lacks a "jobs bill" or some such.

No, they are worried that Congress will stop spending. You see, this company's business is defense-related. And now that the so-called "super committee" has failed they are facing the prospect of the first serious cut-backs of the post-9/11 era thanks to the automatic "budget sequestration" provisions.

Assuming they do kick in. The company and its lobbyists are not going to take this lying down. They are already working on members of Congress to undo the cuts one way or another.

They are not exactly rolling a boulder up a hill either. As one explains to me, it is just a matter of explaining to individual lawmakers how much the cutbacks will damage the economy in their home state. And, hey -- guess what? -- the company has operations in almost every state in the union.

Is the lawmaker an anti-war lefty? No problem, just talk to the workers' unions and get them to talk to the lawmakers. The lobbyists will be happy to set that up. "We've always gotten along great with the unions," one tells me.

Is the lawmaker a Republican? Again, no problem. Heck, it is even easier. Even self-proclaimed budget hawks turn out to be, well, hawks when it comes to defense. Several are already publicly on their side. Defense is apparently the only area of government spending that is done with pinpoint accuracy and there is no fat to cut away.

If the lawmakers are stubborn, well, just warn them that without the procurement the U.S. will lose its cutting edge in defense. The engineers and other mechanical experts will move on to other fields. After all, these are highly skilled, highly sought-after people. Our defense technology could fall a generation behind other countries without them. What red-state Republican wants to run against that ad?

"But is that really so?" I asked, sipping on my wine. Why can't the engineers just be hired back if it turns out we need them? It is not like they are moving to China, right? Don't we just have to offer them a good salary?

No, no, no, I am told, it is not that way at all. But even after my host explained it to me I am not certain I completely understood or believed him. Then again, what do I know? I am not an engineer, just a lowly writer.

The only roadblock this time is Congress's 60-odd caucus of Tea Party members. "We've been working on them for a year now, but they are a tough nut to crack," one of the company employees tells me.

Indeed, for the first time at the event the mood darkens when those radicals are mentioned. That their obsession with getting the federal budget under control could extend to defense has caught the company off-guard and its Washington team is not sure what to do. 

None of the usual lobbying ploys seem to work on them, one sighs.

I expect that the company will find a way, though. We've seen this before, haven't we?

The Gingrich Republicans rode into town in 1995 with lofty goals of shrinking the federal government. They barely made a dent before the revolution faded. These days Gingrich is trying to convince people that the $1.6 million he got from Freddie Mac was not a lobbying fee.

As I walked back to my car later that evening, I passed several homeless people wrapped in blankets and hoping to score some change from passers-by. I didn't have the heart to tell them that that is not how begging is done in Washington.

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About the Author

Thirsty McWormwood is the nom de cyber of a writer in Washington, D.C.