WASHINGTON - Throughout the tense fiscal deadlock in recent weeks, some of the most powerful forces in Washington largely sat on the sidelines. Now they are preparing for a political fight with billions of federal dollars at stake.
With automatic cuts to the military set to take effect by January and a separate round of cuts scheduled for Medicare, lawmakers will have to decide who gets hit the hardest. Washington's lobbying machine - representing older citizens, doctors, educators, military contractors and a wide range of corporate interests - is gearing up to ensure that the slices of federal money for those groups are spared in new negotiations over government spending.
So far, the defense industry is likely to be hit the hardest since the automatic cuts, known as sequestration, set for January would slice an additional $20 billion from the Pentagon's budget.
"It's fair to say the volume in Washington is going to be deafening," said Marion Blakey, chief executive of the Aerospace Industries Association.
Republicans on Capitol Hill are determined to mitigate those cuts by spreading them among various social programs, like education and Social Security, bringing dozens of other special-interest groups into the picture.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said he regretted that Congress had created a situation where another budget fight is about to begin immediately after a crisis ended.
"I have to believe the American people are totally fatigued with this issue, and to be candid, I am pretty fatigued with it myself," he said in an interview Friday. "It is almost an embarrassment to keep bringing it up."
Health care industry lobbyists hope to find a permanent fix to the annual threat of major cuts in the compensation paid to doctors who treat Medicare patients, like the 25 percent cut scheduled to take place again in January. At a minimum, they will seek to have the 2014 cut reversed.
Separately, major American corporations like the Silicon Valley tech giants are again preparing to step up their campaign to persuade Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration law.
The lobbying factions will not, in most cases, be attacking one another. But with Republicans insisting that they will not back down from spending limits set by the 2011 sequestration legislation and rejecting calls by Democrats for new tax revenue, the cuts will likely have to hit some interests, creating unavoidable conflict.
"Everybody who has a piece of pie is now going to try to protect their piece of the pie," said Steve Elmendorf, a former House aide who runs a Washington lobbying firm that represents the defense and health care industries.