For Washington lobbyists, everything old is new again.
Since the terror attacks and subsequent promises to dole out tens of billions in federal disaster money, many corporations, lobbyists and interest groups are repackaging their causes in an attempt to tie them to 9/11.
Entities as diverse as oil companies, the National Organization for Women's legal defense arm, telecommunications giant Verizon, the travel industry, and the farm lobby have all descended upon Capitol Hill, scrambling to get their pet projects to the top of regulatory lists and their hands on some of the $20 billion in taxpayer-funded recovery money.
In the face of the onslaught, tax opponents are encouraging restraint.
"We have to separate disaster relief and war profiteering," said Jonathan Collegio, communications director at Americans for Tax Reform. "A lot of special interests will try to enact pork-barrel spending disguised as national security and disaster relief expenditures. Those are the kinds of things we have to look out for."
U.S. oil producers have been asking the administration to open up Alaska's Arctic wildlife refuge to drilling for at least a year. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks and amidst the war in the Middle East, they've restructured their argument with a newfound urgency, clamoring for federal funding and policies to make it happen.
Discovering new oil sources domestically, they contend, is particularly crucial now, so the U.S. can stop depending on the Middle East for the commodity.
Similarly, the National Organization for Women and spin-off groups like the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund have long been lobbying Congress for federally funded initiatives that will help close the wage gap between the sexes. Among programs they've been pushing are those encouraging women to enter more lucrative, hard-labor fields like construction and police protection — traditionally dominated by men.
Post Sept. 11, the New York City-based NOW-LDEF has asked for some of the $20 billion promised by Congress to New York state — $11.5 billion of which has been distributed — to realize its goals.
The connection: The part female firefighters, police officers and construction workers played in the recovery effort has gone largely unrecognized, enhancing the need for more women in those jobs and more awareness of the challenges they face.
Verizon has linked its ability to restore phone service in Manhattan with the need to abolish federal rules giving competitors access to its network. The farm lobby has pushed for a reform and subsidy bill — now called the Farm Security Act of 2001 — saying it's more important now because of increased agricultural demands to supply food for the war. The travel industry is asking for a temporary $1000-per-family tax break to help Americans in a recession pay for vacations.
In fact, the list of lobbies and corporate interests seems endless and extends across the political spectrum. Representatives from nearly every conceivable special interest have come forward to make old pleas seem new — and desperately necessary in this terror-stricken world.
Some call it a smart persuasion tactic. Others call it crass.
"You can distinguish between something that was directly affected by 9/11 versus something that was indirectly affected," Collegio said. "Once you get away from national security, the things people are calling priorities may not be."
New York-based entities charged with rebuilding downtown Manhattan, providing compensation to victims' families and taking care of the 105,000 people out of work because of the attacks are among those in the "directly affected" category.
Such groups — including the New York state branch of the AFL-CIO, the Downtown Alliance, the New York City Partnership and the Greater New York Hospital Association — have banded together to form New York United. They're asking for the remaining $8.5 billion in federal aid the Bush administration promised.
The fact that other non-disaster-related interest groups are trying to get some of the money worries representatives from organizations that legitimately need it.
"It's obvious that there have been people directly impacted by the events of Sept. 11," said Mario Cilento, public relations director for the New York state AFL-CIO. "It would be unfortunate for any group to take advantage of this situation for their own needs."