Unfinished business in 2009 presents opportunity to tout various issues in 2010

President Obama's first year in office was riddled with so many policy and legislative initiatives that many lawmakers and pundits rightfully feared that little could get accomplished.

President Obama's first year in office was riddled with so many policy and legislative initiatives that many lawmakers and pundits rightfully feared that little could get accomplished. By year's end, several campaign promises, such as healthcare reform and an energy bill that includes a cap and trade system, can be put down as “in the works.” However, the list of “undones” is long, including major immigration reform and new financial market regulations.

On healthcare reform alone, more than 200 lawmakers and hundreds of healthcare groups were heavily involved with a direct stake in the provisions. The drama reached a crescendo in Congress where Democratic leaders argued on the public option plan and other provisions. All this played out to the net benefit of public affairs pros and lobbyists who were on Capitol Hill daily for almost nine months in 2009. Do the math on billable work.

In 2010, I anticipate a full year of legislative activity, despite mid-term elections. Too many issues unaddressed in 2009 will take center stage, including an energy bill that creates a system for capping carbon emissions; new financial services regulation; immigration reform; job creation incentives; and more small-business lending.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer's (D-MD) 2010 legislative calendar calls for an October 8 adjournment. Fat chance of that. Perhaps we will even see a shortened August recess. Not only will Congress work late into October, but it will likely return for a lame duck session. There's just no possible way for Congress to complete all these priorities, including the appropriations process.

Jobs, deficits, and taxes will likely occupy much of Q1 and Q2, if healthcare reform is resolved. The President's State of the Union address will primarily focus on these issues with another direct challenge to Congress to help in job creation. The administration projects unemployment to remain high throughout 2010. The president's budget will also be released the first week of February, with spending priorities that might require another urgent call for a new stimulus package.

The good news for our industry and those who specialize in public affairs is that business should stay heavy in 2010, with lawmakers eager to win policy initiatives that will earn the support of their constituents in November. As I see it, the policy agenda is ripe with opportunity for public affairs pros to champion their client's cause and business objectives, as well as be part of serious, meaningful legislation. Plan for a long year.

Neil Dhillon is MD and director of the US public affairs practice at MS&L.

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