|With Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney|
Friday, March 20, 2015
Lobbyist for a Day: Battling Dysfunction on the Front Lines
I have just returned from a few days in our nation’s capital, taking a turn at being a lobbyist, and getting a close-up look at dysfunction on parade. I had a blast as a lobbyist, but suffered the blues with the dysfunction; a typical day, I gather, in the current Washington zeitgeist. Where else do wheels spin faster with less effect? In such a poisonous environment, our mode was to mostly focus on “defense.”
My wife and I are both volunteers for Planned Parenthood; Wendy serves as a board member for the Hudson Peconic affiliate, and I am on the Action Fund board of the same entity. We were in Washington for Planned Parenthood’s annual “Lobby Day,” and we called on our congressmen and congresswomen to advance the women's health agenda. The “defense” was to protect current funding levels for a myriad of specific initiatives, including sex education and international family planning, but more broadly to protect woman’s health care rights, earned through decades of hard fought battles, against GOP legislation designed to rollback those very rights-- right back into the dark ages.
Planned Parenthood is a remarkable organization. Most of the national dialogue around Planned Parenthood focuses on its role as a provider of abortions, and Planned Parenthood is indeed often the only such service in many parts of the country. But the little known fact is that more than 90% of Planned Parenthood’s services are devoted to preventive health care, including lifesaving cancer screening, birth control, annual exams, and STI testing and treatment. And no single organization prevents more unwanted pregnancies than Planned Parenthood.
We called on our own congressman, Sean Patrick Maloney (D- NY-18), who has won two very tough elections (yes, we live in a real live contested congressional district) over a Tea Party candidate, each by a margin of less than five points. Sean has been a strong supporter of Planned Parenthood through those tough elections and we expressed our gratitude. A former Clinton staffer, Maloney gave us a full half-hour and demonstrated his considerable political acumen, policy chops, and personal passion across an array of issues. We also met with Representative Steven Israel (D-NY-3), and with staffers of Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Kirsten Gillebrand (D-NY), and those of Representatives Eliot Engel (D-NY-16) and Nita Lowey (D-NY-17). At lunchtime we heard stirring addresses to our group (200 strong) by Senators Patty Murray (D-Washington) and Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) and Representative Alma Adams (D-North Carolina-12).
While all this was going on, the GOP was demonstrating further calculated clumsiness – yes, I know oxymoronic behavior when I see it – as it bollixed up another attempt at actually passing legislation. The bill was to combat human trafficking and had broad bi-partisan support. How do you mess up such a bill? By attaching an anti-choice provision to it, that’s how. The GOP had the bright idea of inserting an amendment rather late in the game that set up a “Victim’s Fund” (good idea) but also said that the victim’s fund could not be used to pay for abortions by the victims (bad idea, a strange extension of the so-called Hyde Amendment).
The Democrats, naturally, withdrew their support for the bill and the standoff began (and continues). Mitch McConnell then doubled down on this debacle by declaring that he would not allow the vote to confirm Loretta Lynch as Attorney General until the human trafficking bill was resolved.
And so, with one fell swoop McConnell managed to reinforce the notion that the GOP cannot responsibly govern, managed to get on the wrong side of an issue that has no opposition (human trafficking) and ticked off African-Americans, women and, well, all clear thinking Americans by denying the Lynch nomination (when virtually everyone agrees she is more than qualified.) Obviously, McConnell, no dummy, is calculating some upside for the GOP in this stance, but I, for one, have trouble detecting it. As far as the general population is concerned, this looks like more Washington gridlock, now under GOP leadership, by awkwardly linking several unrelated issues into one giant farce. This is the image McConnell wants to bring to the electorate come 2016?