WASHINGTON – A mention in the president's State of the Union (search) speech is the holy grail for Washington lobbyists, the ultimate but always elusive reward.
"You tell everybody you can think to tell" in the White House, said Dan Danner, lobbyist for the National Federation of Independent Business (search). "You tell the speechwriters. You tell the congressional people. You tell the policy people. You tell the public liaison people and the economic shop."
Danner's issue is what the federation calls Association Health Plan (search) legislation. It would allow small business organizations to provide insurance for members' workers. President Bush has endorsed the idea often, but not in the State of the Union, the annual showpiece of his administration.
A reference in the roughly hourlong address Tuesday night would be a declaration that the president considers the plan a priority and would send the same message to lawmakers whose 2004 session got under way earlier in the day.
The same holds for issues promoted by other lobby group:
-Since the discovery last month that a cow slaughtered in Washington state had mad cow disease, the American Meat Institute (search) has worked closely with the administration to spread the word that American beef is safe. A mention of that message in Bush's speech would be "the frosting on the cake," institute spokesman Dan Murphy said.
-The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (search) wants a mention to revive energy legislation that include tax credits for those who buy cleaner-fuel cars such as gas-electric hybrids.
-The National Restaurant Association (search) urged inclusion of a proposed overhaul of immigration policy as well as the legislation on trade association health plans, lobbyist Lee Culpepper said.
-The American Bankers Association (search) would like to see Bush discuss the importance of savings accounts.
Techniques for trying to win a plug vary.
Danner made specific pitches for inclusion of small businessmen's health insurance legislation.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce (search) handed a printed rundown of its legislative priorities to the White House in plenty of time this month to make the address. The organization wants Bush to mention the pursuit of a national broadband Internet-connection policy, trade agreements and proposals to make tax cuts permanent and limit legal liability.
The business group did not lobby specifically for inclusion in the address but believes the White House knows what it would like to see. "We communicate with them on a regular basis," lobbyist Bruce Josten said. "They have endless streams of information."
The Financial Service Roundtable (search) would like to see Bush note several items, including legislation to limit class-action lawsuits, promote saving by Americans and ensure the financial soundness of the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgage companies. But chief executive Steve Bartlett saw no need to ask.
"I've got really good relations with the White House and people throughout the White House, and I have a really high confidence level that the president is quite on top of these issues," Bartlett said.
Still, it never hurts to reinforce the message.
About a week ago, the National Association of Manufacturers (search) hand-delivered its 2004 agenda to dozens of government officials. It hopes Bush's speech will mention its members' importance to the economy and promote making regulation and taxation more manufacturer-friendly.
"Any message or statements he might make specific to manufacturers would show, one, that he understands their situation, and two, that this administration is about the business of doing what it can to improve the situation," lobbyist Fred Nichols said.
It's also nice to have a face in the crowd.
Last year, when Bush promoted legislation to limit medical liability, a physician had a prominent seat next to first lady Laura Bush. The American Medical Association (search) would like to see one there Tuesday.
The independent business federation hopes a small-business owner gets mentioned, or at least gets a prized seat in Mrs. Bush's box, as one did during the past two addresses.
"The visibility of the State of the Union is heads and shoulders above most of the other speeches," lobbyist Danner said.