The Familiar Ring Of The K Street Project

THE FAMILIAR RING OF THE K STREET PROJECT…. The notorious K Street Project became synonymous with Republican excesses of the Gingrich/DeLay/Bush era, and for good reason. As part of the effort, GOP leaders told business leaders that those who supported the Republican agenda across the board would be rewarded with access and influence; those whose loyalties were questioned would be locked out of the policymaking process.

It became a devastating scandal for the Republican Party, and Exhibit A in the culture of corruption that helped drive the GOP from power in 2006. Indeed, when John Boehner sought a leadership post in January 2006, he vowed that under his guidance, “[T]here will no longer be a K Street Project, or anything else like it.”

The elaborate scheme has not been resuscitated, at least not yet. But the Washington Post has an important front-page piece today, explaining that something resembling the K Street Project is already taking shape among Republicans on the Hill.

Republicans have a message for the businesses that worked closely with the Obama administration over the past two years on key controversial issues: We won’t forget.

Take the case of Wal-Mart, the behemoth big-box retailer that liberals have long loved to hate. Several years ago, it began to break ranks with industry groups by speaking out in favor of a minimum wage increase and health-care reform. And, for the first time in its history, it gave more money to Democrats than the GOP for Tuesday’s elections.

The corporation’s moves caught the eye of Republican Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan. During a phone call with company lobbyists last year during the fight over the health-care bill, Camp bluntly reminded Wal-Mart of its unpalatable position on the issue, according to sources familiar with the conversation.

Now, Wal-Mart’s political team finds itself in an awkward position. Camp is poised to become the next chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.

Companies that worked with the Democrats over the past two years would face a far less sympathetic audience from Republicans, who are expected to make significant gains in the midterm elections. If they gain control of Congress, party leaders have pledged to revisit the health-care bill and lower taxes for businesses.

“Some businesses joined in on the hang-me-last strategy,” said Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.). “I think upon reflection, in moments of candor, they may say they were foolish to do that.”

The report didn’t elaborate on precisely what Roskam meant by that, but in context, the comment implies that businesses “were foolish” to work with the governing majority of the last two years — because Republicans will be in a position to punish those businesses now.

Keep in mind, this isn’t the first hint of the K Street Project’s return we’ve seen. In May, GOP leaders announced they were “keeping score” when it came to corporate PACs’ campaign donations. If lobbyists want to start writing legislation again, the way they did before there was a Democratic majority, the implication was that they’d have to start buying that influence once again.

All of this, of course, comes under the leadership of John Boehner, who makes no secret of his affinity for lobbyists, whom he turns to for practically everything.

When GOP leaders vowed to take America back to “the exact same agenda,” they were referring to Bush/Cheney on policy, but they were probably also thinking of Tom DeLay when it came to governance.