* Veteran senators says speeding up is dangerous
* Too many specifics hazardous to a deal, says Conrad
* Concern about entitlement programs if long-term deal
By Patricia Zengerle and Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON, Dec 11 While some bemoan the slow
pace of talks on the "fiscal cliff" and the lack of specifics
offered in the negotiations, one seasoned deficit hawk in
Washington, North Dakota Democratic Senator Kent Conrad, thinks
it's the only way to get the job done.
If Congress moved too fast and proposals got too specific
too soon, interest groups would kill everything off, he said.
"I don't know what's going on in that room," he said of the
meetings between Democratic President Barack Obama and House of
Representatives Speaker John Boehner, a Republican.
"But I do know that if you have too much time, that just
gives time for all the opposing groups to organize" against a
deal to avert the cliff, a series of major tax increases and
spending cuts set to take effect starting early next year that
economists say could lead to recession.
The right time to get a deal? "About Tuesday of next week."
He added that while he had "no insider information. I just
know how this place works."
In fact, the city has been swarming with lobbyists - the
highly paid and the unpaid - for months.
The defense industry lobby, anti-tax activist Grover
Norquist, and AARP - the seniors lobby group - are only the best
known members of what is politely called the influence industry.
Just last week, a small group concerned about cuts to social
programs in general peppered Republican Senator Rob Portman of
Ohio with so many questions that he had to abruptly halt a
speech he was delivering.
Some 300 executives of charitable organizations were on
Capitol Hill at roughly the same time, to lobby against limiting
the deduction for charitable contributions.
Another organization, concerned about social services
generally, showed up to seek divine intervention, singing hymns
and saying prayers.
And it isn't just happening in Washington.
Concerned constitutents have been regularly appearing in
force at the home district offices of members of Congress.
Republican Representative Bob Goodlatte's Lynchburg, Virginia,
offices were the site of a protest on Monday.
Federal workers have been demonstrating in cities across the
country to protect their particular agencies' budgets.
Each comes armed with reasons as to why their cause is
Advocates from universities and research institutions have
been among the most vocal and well-organized, fearing for the
budget of the National Institutes of Health, among other
"I don't see why you would cut off the funding for basic
research at a time when you're trying to gin up the economy and
get people back to work," said April Burke, president of
Lewis-Burke Associates, a lobbying and consulting firm focused
on higher education and science.
But it's a feature of "across-the-board" spending cuts that
nothing is special. That makes the lobbying job tougher.
In ordinary times, lobbying tends to focus more narrowly on
specific programs that might be on the chopping block in a
particular sub-committee of Congress. Activists can refine their
efforts to concentrate on particular members of Congress and
their staffs for intensive persuasion.
But "across-the-board" cuts are indiscriminate. They could
hit every program that does not have the protected status of
"mandatory expenditure," such as the bulk of the Medicare and
Medicaid healthcare programs for the elderly and the poor
But these mandatory entitlement programs could be on the
chopping block later, in the event a deal is reached, so much of
the energy is aimed at protecting them.
Sarah Binder, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution,
said much of the lobbying is probably about 2013, when lawmakers
could take on tax reform and a longer-term debt plan.
"My hunch is they want to put their markers down to make
sure that when a full-fledged battle erupts next year, they have
made clear to lawmakers where their constituencies stand," she