Lobbyists alter spiels for wish lists

Monday, November 26, 2001

WASHINGTON -- The lobby for road-sign makers is using a new pitch for its traditional request for more federal highway safety money: Better traffic-routing devices would help motorists flee cities more quickly and safely during a terrorist attack.

Since Sept. 11, lobby groups as diverse as the American Traffic Safety Services Association, farmers, the high-tech industry and energy producers have begun to promote long-standing proposals as suddenly vital to national security.

"You have to get the attention of lawmakers to get something done, and right now their attention is focused on terrorism and national security," explained Jim Albertine, president of the American League of Lobbyists.

Among the examples:

The American Farm Bureau Federation is arguing that federal subsidies for farmers are crucial for a sufficient national food supply.

Ethanol producers want the government to require ethanol in gasoline, contending it would make the United States less reliant on Middle East fuel sources.

The superconductor industry wants changes in rules governing electricity transmission, arguing it would make the nation's power supply more secure.

Before Sept. 11, lawmakers worried about federal deficits and Social Security. Now, the spending spigots are open as Congress tries to stimulate the economy and fight terrorism. That has lobbyists angling for an advantage.

Lobbyists "have been very imaginative in their use of the events of 9-11 to advance their particular projects and their particular lobby goals," Albertine said. Albertine also is a lobbyist for the American Traffic Safety Services Association, whose members include makers of traffic signs and highway safety equipment.

The group says people in the nation's capital were hampered Sept. 11 by traffic gridlock caused by the crash at the Pentagon and the precautionary evacuations of other federal facilities.

"If a second plane had come into that city, you would almost have had to helicopter people to fight fire or evacuate people," said Rob Dingess, the group's director of government relations. More sophisticated signs would have helped.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable and TechNet, a network of high-tech executives, are among the groups to refocus their arguments. They contend two long-sought items -- corporate tax breaks and presidential trade authority -- would help strengthen the nation's economy, and that is essential to national security.

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