The Hill: Putting GOP women in Congress | September 26, 2017

By Megan R. Wilson

Jenn Higgins only intended to spend a brief time in Washington. But roughly 16 years later, she has found her place in D.C. When she’s not lobbying on health care and tax policy, she’s working to increase the number of women — particularly Republican women — in Congress.

There are 104 female lawmakers on Capitol Hill, and while that figure is the highest ever, it’s still only about 19 percent of members. The numbers are even worse for the GOP: The 27 Republican women in Congress comprise only 5 percent of lawmakers, and four of them are retiring after this session.

“A commitment I figured out awhile ago is that we don’t have enough Republican women in Congress, and it’s something I’ve been passionate about,” Higgins said.

Higgins was raised by a single mother in the pharmaceutical industry in Hillsborough, N.C., and once dreamed of running a hospital. Now she’s a partner at Chamber Hill Strategies, a women-owned lobbying firm that specializes in health care.

“I’ve always been interested in health care, but I think never really knew that I wanted to do health-care policy. When I got here, I saw the potential to have an impact on health care in a much more tangible way and on a much larger scale, so that appealed to me,” she said. “I realized I could do it one patient at a time, or one hospital at a time, as opposed to spending my time really figuring out, really getting inside the system and figure out what works and what doesn’t.”

Even her free time isn’t really free. Asked about her hobbies, she jumps right into talking about her work with groups that empower women in politics.

There’s one called RightNOW Women PAC, which helps Republican women get elected and stay in Congress, and another, Running Start, that offers scholarships and encourages young women involved in public service.

“As a woman who is young, who is a minority, I think I felt this need to compensate by knowing policy better than anybody first. People talk about access lobbyists and substance lobbyists, and I think you have to be both as a woman,” Higgins said recently, sitting on the rooftop of her firm’s downtown Washington office, with the Capitol visible in the distance.

“You can’t just be somebody who gets meetings with people, you have to actually know your stuff inside and out. So, I took the time to learn my stuff inside and out, and then I built the political relationships I needed to build to be an effective lobbyist,” she continued. “I think your bar is a little bit higher to be credible, as a woman, as a young woman, in this town.”

Higgins came to Washington thinking she would only be here for a year and worked in the Bush administration at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) at the prodding of her boss, a hospital administrator in North Carolina.

It took her one year at CMS to decide she wanted to stay in D.C., and she has since worked at the health-care-focused political intelligence firm Marwood Group and two other K Street firms, including one run by former Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), who chaired a powerful tax-writing committee while in Congress.

Higgins, 37, revels in rising up the ranks in a male-dominated atmosphere and wants to use her experiences as a way to inspire others.

“I think that’s been fun for me to be in a room with all men and say I’m only one of the few women Republican donors in this room advising on strategy for the party — and I was invited into the room because I add value, not because they needed a woman in the room. Some of it is about longevity, some of it is about credibility,” she said.

“I see myself as somebody who needs to keep doing what I’m doing in order to allow for other women to say, ‘See, she’s doing it, I should be able to do it too. … If she can be in a room with all guys, then I can do that.’ ”

Her involvement about engaging women in politics goes beyond party, however.

As Washington, and the country, have become more politically divided, Higgins founded a group for her fellow K Street colleagues — HCXX — that has 20 bipartisan female members, all health-care lobbyists.

Reaching across the aisle makes her a better lobbyist, she said, because it helps her understand how Democrats see issues.

“I recognize that my party won’t always be in power, so I can’t just sit on the sidelines every time my party is in the minority,” she said.

Higgins does push back against the notion that the Republican Party doesn’t have a place for women.

“We need to have more women that are Republicans that are outspoken and that people see as a different face of our party,” she said. “The face of our party has been very homogenous for a very long time and still is.”

To that end, she chairs RightNOW Women PAC, a fundraising vehicle founded in 2012 to help Republican women get elected.

It doled out $128,000 to the campaigns of Republican Reps. Barbara Comstock (Va.), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.) and Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), among others, in the 2016 election cycle.

The National Republican Congressional Committee announced earlier this year that Stefanik, 33, would be helping to recruit new GOP candidates to run for Congress.

While the party appears to be taking a more proactive approach in finding female candidates for office than it had prior to the last decade, Higgins acknowledged that it faces some challenges.

“I think with the number of women who had a difference in opinion with the nominee and with President Trump’s candidacy, I think that that offset to some extent the number of women who were running to the election office to say, ‘Hi, sign me up,’ ” she said.

With a number of House seats opening up, it marks an opportunity, she says, to show them “they can be a part of the conversation,” and that there is “a place for them in the party.”

It’s important “that more women are given opportunities to move up the ladder and advance in leadership roles in the party, to advance into roles as staffers in leadership, to advance into roles as partners in lobbying firms, is only opening doors for other women down the road,” Higgins said.

Greater Greater Washington: Here’s how DC wants to help small businesses open | August 10, 2017

As DC continues to draw new residents, the growth of the federal workforce is slowing down. Other sectors, like small business, have a huge opportunity to play an important role in the District economy.

To learn about why small businesses are important and the role they play in economic development, Matt Gontarchick sat down with Kate Mereand-Sinha, Program Manager for Technology and Innovation at the District Department of Small and Local Business Development. They discussed how one goes about starting a business, the various types of businesses out there, the challenges small business owners face, and what the future for small businesses in the District might look like. This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Here’s how you start a (brick-and-mortar) business in DC

Matt:  What kind of reputation does Washington, DC have right now as a place for small businesses?

Kate: I think that that varies greatly across groups.  A lot of the overall economy for DC has had a reputation of being very tied to the federal level, so some people don’t even think about small businesses, including some people who live here.  However, once you start digging down into people who are paying attention to small business, there are a lot of people who are very excited about the District being the District.

Matt: How exactly does someone go about starting a small business in Washington, DC?

Kate: The first thing that someone has to do is come up with a sustainable revenue model, so they have to think about an idea, test an idea, and then they actually have to have it function.  That in some sense is the hardest part of entrepreneurship anyway, which is just getting a business idea that’s going to stick and that’s going to work.  Getting down into the more granular details, including the legal structure and the licensure structure, there are five basic steps you can find on

Matt: What are some of the different kinds of challenges [brick-and-mortar] small businesses might face as opposed to others?

Kate: One that people talk about a lot would be restaurants – they probably need to do additional build-out, which means they have to go through the permitting system separately from how they’re doing their business, and if there are any delays in that, and frequently there are when it comes to zoning, so they have to be able to manage the cost before they open and start making money.

You see a similar thing with daycares.  We just finished a report done by a public health group out of American University, with a number of students looking at the cost of daycare and why the cost of daycare is so high and if there’s a way to bring that down because with daycare providers. Even if the cost is very high for the consumer, they’re not paying their workers much because they’re not making very much money because these structural costs for these businesses are very high.  They have the same licensing questions as restaurants, and the other thing that happens in terms of rent negotiations is that it’s much harder to negotiate a lower rent if you have less ability to move.

High rents are just one challenge facing small businesses

Matt: Do you have any thoughts on how the District could address commercial rent affordability?

Katie: Whenever you talk about affordable housing, affordable commercial space needs to be discussed in tandem, and the reason for that is if you have an affordable space for someone to live, they need an affordable space in which they can either work or they can go buy things.

For instance, you need a grocery store nearby that has similar availability so that you can get to the right costs.  So, people are looking at how do they develop grocery stores in Wards 7 and 8, and making sure that they can keep the costs of produce and other things down well enough so that people that live there can actually afford to shop there – and it’s not just food; that’s the most critical.

But, almost anything that you see in a brick and mortar – if their rent costs are that high, then their other costs are going to go up, and then the local community can’t afford to purchase from them. And the same thing if the only businesses that come into that space are national chains because they’re the only ones that can pay the rent, then people can’t shop local, support local, and support keeping the overall profits in their community.  And one of the things that we hear from a lot of the community members is that they want to be able to support their own local economy and support that money coming back into their communities.

Matt: We’re a very diverse city, but there are extremely high levels of inequality here.  How might inequality affect small businesses, and what might be done to improve equity or help some disadvantaged populations get involved in small business or entrepreneurship?

Katie: So, we have a number of programs that we are starting in pilot mode.  We hope that those pilots would be able to become not-pilots and smooth out across the board in both workforce and other programs.  One of our pilots is working with returning citizens – those are people that have criminal records.

The last count that I saw, which is years old, is that there are at least 60,000 returning citizens in the District, which is one-tenth of the population.  The estimate that we have hear from CSOSA, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, is that half of returning citizens are unemployed or unable to maintain steady work, which has a huge impact on recidivism, and so figuring out ways to support those individuals into entrepreneurship. And as we do that, that population has indicated that they want to hire other returning citizens. Supporting development of these businesses also supports other people coming in, so our program uses workforce dollars and pays them a stipend while they do business development support.

We’re taking that same idea and working with the Summer Youth Employment Program, which has thousands of youth ages 14 through 24 go into work placements across the summer.e’re going to extend that to 12 weeks, and we’re going to include placement within tech and coworking companies as well.

What the future looks like for small businesses

Matt: What kinds of small businesses does the District need most, or would like to see more of?

Katie: The spaces that we think a lot about are neighborhoods where retail corridors are not as developed. There are several food deserts across the District, and being able to make sure that people can actually access food if they have to walk to it.Without a retail sector or space [nearby], it can be hard to get a hold of things like diapers and basic toiletries, and so some people will drive farther out, and when you can’t drive, then you are relying on very small corner stores that often don’t have the full selection that you’re looking for.

Matt: What have you heard from small business owners as specific things that they need help with, or things that they would like to see the District do?

Katie: I think it’s slightly different for stage of business and it’s slightly different for type of business, so we’ll start with a lot of start-ups.It appears that a lot of start-ups just need more business development, business planning, support and training, or that cohort model, or something else. Someone to spend more time with them as they’re developing their business idea, whether that’s provided by the District or private organization. It doesn’t really matter, they just need to be able to find and afford those options to get more intensive business development support.  Access to capital support is the hardest question for all businesses.

POLITICO Influence: Chamber Hill Adds Weinstein | August 2, 2017

CHAMBER HILL ADDS WEINSTEIN: Anna Weinstein has left the Podesta Group for Chamber Hill Strategies, where she’ll be a principal. Her clients at Podesta included the American Health Care Association, BMO Financial and Mylan, the pharmaceutical company, as a subcontractor to Hogan Lovells. Before joining Podesta, she worked as a lobbyist for the Biotechnology Innovation Organization.

The Hill: Lobbying World | August 1, 2017

Melissa Bartlett, a former lobbyist for Sanofi, has left the biotech company to join the lobbying firm Chamber Hill Strategies. Her résumé also includes working at Health Care Service Corporation (HCSC) and time on Capitol Hill as GOP counsel to the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

POLITICO Influence | July 25, 2017

Chamber Hill Strategies is bringing on Melissa Bartlett as a principal. She was previously associate vice president for government relations at Sanofi.

Medspace: Hospitalists on Healthcare: ‘Politicians Can’t Fix This’ | May 6, 2017

By Marcia Frellick

The AHCA bill, in its current form, won’t become law, said Jennifer Bell, founding partner of Chamber Hill Strategies in Washington, DC, and lobbyist on the Hill for the Society of Hospital Medicine.

“I’m a longtime Republican, I’m a Republican lobbyist, so what you’re hearing from me is stark reality,” she said. “This bill is going nowhere. Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell has already said he will not bring this bill to a vote.”

Her personal affiliation does not affect her lobbying for the society, she emphasized, which is nonpartisan.

Hospitalists are very concerned about the aspects of the bill that will likely reduce insurance coverage, particularly the ban on further Medicaid expansion, because fewer patients will seek the care they need, Bell told Medscape Medical News.

“The American Health Care Act is about repealing Medicaid expansion more than anything else,” she pointed out. But the bill goes beyond expansion to promote Medicaid reform, and many senators are not convinced this is the time to do that, she added.

Far more children are covered by Medicaid than by the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), “so changes at the state level to Medicaid are quite serious,” she explained.

Bloomberg BNA: Spending on Health Lobbying Spikes Under Trump | April 24, 2017

By Alex Ruoff

Overhauling the ACA has dominated the health agenda on Capitol Hill since Donald Trump became president, Jennifer Higgins, a partner and health lobbyist at Chamber Hill Strategies, told Bloomberg BNA. Lawmakers have been so focused on repealing and replacing the health law that they have had little appetite for other health reforms.

“The AHCA in my opinion is this cloud that hangs over health-care policy as long as the president and Republicans want to keep it alive,” Higgins said, referring to the ACA overhaul bill House Republicans are debating.

Republicans in the House have spent much of this year trying to replace the ACA. Lawmakers tried and failed to bring their ACA bill, the American Health Care Act (H.R. 1628), to the House floor for a vote in March and have been debating new amendments to the legislation ever since, hoping the conference can come to agreement.

Reviving the AHCA over and over again with debates over new amendments may keep Congress from moving on to other health issues, such as authorizing new money for CHIP, the public health insurance program for children, and tackling rising drug prices, Higgins said.

Lobbyists Resetting Trump Expectations | April 12, 2017

By Megan R. Wilson

“We’ve pivoted from a reform agenda to a reauthorization agenda,” said Jenn Higgins, a partner at Chamber Hill Strategies, who specializes in healthcare policy. “We thought this was going to be the year that big things would get done.”

The focus is now reauthorizing big, established healthcare programs, such as the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Prescription Drug User Fee Act, Higgins said.

“If there are opportunities for policy developments, you’re going to have to play on the edges of those issues,” she said, adding that the Department of Health and Human Services, run by former Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), is already having listening sessions with lobbyists and stakeholders.

“If AHCA is not the policy goal, our focus and our energy will be on regulatory and administrative policy development,” Higgins said, referring to the GOP’s healthcare bill, the American Health Care Act.