- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 25, 2008

They’re all hoping for a slice of the mammoth economic stimulus package President-elect Barack Obama and Congress hope to pass early next year.

The bill, which could amount to a gargantuan $850 billion in spending and tax breaks over two years, is supposed to ease the pain of the country’s worst recession in decades. With Obama transition officials and congressional Democratic leaders planning to make it their top priority in January, lobbyists for homebuilders, local governments, labor and other predictable interests are working to claim a share of the money.

Less obvious groups, though, also are lobbying hard for inclusion, underscoring how the sheer size and scope of the measure has made it irresistible to all sorts of industries and organizations that at first blush might not seem likely candidates for federal aid. It also suggests how difficult it may be for Obama and his allies to fashion a sharply focused bill, or even to decide which proposals are most worthy.

“It’s a good target of opportunity, quite frankly,” said Howard Malone, lobbyist for the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association, which champions restoring eroded beaches and dredging shipping channels.

Despite their hopes, the incoming administration is vowing not to load up its stimulus package with special-interest goodies. “President-elect Obama and I are absolutely, absolutely determined that this economic recovery plan will not become a Christmas tree,” Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. said this week.

Nevertheless, with Mr. Obama saying he wants the measure to finance initiatives that will quickly create millions of jobs and spur the economy, Mr. Malone and many other lobbyists are ready with multiple rationales for why their groups should qualify for money. Mr. Malone says coastal and waterway improvements would create jobs, improve navigation and recreational facilities, and even help restore areas devastated by storms like September’s Hurricane Ike, which battered coastal Texas.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums is making its case, and has asked its members for a list of ready-to-go projects that spokesman Steve Feldman says will cost millions. Besides their deep popularity with families and other members of the public, the attractions have a long history of federal aid, with several - including zoos in St. Louis and San Francisco - receiving help from Washington dating to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Mr. Feldman said.

“There’s precedent. We haven’t just come up with this out of the blue,” he said.

Besides lobbying in Washington, association members are trying to persuade state and local officials to include zoo and aquarium projects on their own lists of proposals for spending stimulus money. That could be crucial, several lobbyists said, because the legislation will likely give state and local officials leeway in spending much of the money and will not “earmark,” or designate, funds for specific projects.

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