"It's classic: Congress doesn't act until there's an emergency," Kavinoky says. "The lobbying on the stimulus is going to be as intense as anything we've seen, simply because there's so much at stake and so much a sense of urgency."
With some economists pushing for $1 trillion or more in spending, the prospect has both reignited old rivalries (for instance, asphalt versus cement for roads) and resulted in forced marriages. At the pro-business chamber, Kavinoky says she works closely on transportation issues with labor unions and just met to compare notes with an official from an environmental group, the Natural Resources Defense Council.
There's a lot of ground to cover, too. From lobbyist Miller: "We're talking to everybody: Republicans and Democrats, the Ways and Means Committee and the Appropriations Committee, congressional leadership on both sides of the aisle, and the presidential transition team."
Another lobbyist says he's had to tell some clients that their ideas won't fly and that they should wait until the next round of federal appropriations for fiscal year 2010. "We have long-standing relationships [on Capitol Hill] that we're not going to undermine by bringing garbage to the table," said this lobbyist, who asked to remain anonymous. "We all know the state of the economy is terrible, and we want to make sure that we're all contributing."
At the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense, Vice President Steve Ellis says much of the lobbying is going on below the radar. But he imagines the competition is fierce, given the size of the package, which could grow to $800 billion or more. "Even if you get one tenth of a percent, you're talking about a lot of cash, $800 million," he says. "Experience has shown when there's a lot of money to be had, there's a lot of action on K Street."