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 Interview: Larry Lane

Legendary lobbyist looks forward and back on long career in D.C.

 

Larry Lane came to Washington, D.C., in the early 1960s to undertake his undergraduate degree at George Washington University. But, even before his first week in town had ended, Lane found his calling when, while visiting his local congressman, the lawmaker uttered four simple words that changed the young man’s life: “When are you starting?”

That meeting with Rep. Roberto Giaimo, the lawmaker from Lane’s hometown New Haven, Conn., led to a job as a full-time office boy while he went to school at night.

“When I walked in it was the last week for the previous office boy, who had just graduated from law school,” Lane says. “I like to say 55 years later I am just an office boy who has made a couple more nickels.”

Understated as he is experienced in the world of lobbying all these years later, Lane is now recently retired from his position of vice president for government relations at Genesis HealthCare Corp., but he remains in a consulting role for the long term/post-acute care provider based in Kennett Square, Pa.

Lane also is a lecturer, an author, a husband of 45 years, and father to two adult children. His son works for the Department of Defense as a civilian employee (and on the side is a world-class cyclist), and his daughter has a high-level contractor position tied to the United Nations’ Syrian relief program.

Looking Back

To rewind Lane’s professional life is to chart the history of the growth in issues so vital in current times to elders, people with disabilities, and those who provide them care. After all, Lane’s connection to the nation’s capital and Congress and the federal agencies more specifically began during the Kennedy administration, before aging was on many legislative agendas.

Medicare and Medicaid had not been born yet, the concerns of the aged had not risen to a level of national debate, and life expectancy was nowhere near modern times.

Before he became an expert in seniors’ issues, Lane departed from his work with Giaimo, who he described as the six-foot, seven-inch “Big Sicilian,” when Uncle Sam called him to military service in 1968.
Although he served for two years during the Vietnam War, Lane worked in intelligence and is not at liberty to say what his duties were, but he does say his experience overseas relates well to what later became a life as a lobbyist.

“My role is intelligence [as a lobbyist] and to be able to explain to the operators in the company what is happening [in Washington, D.C.] and why, and in turn to articulate the impact of that back to regulators and legislators,” he says.

Return to Washington

Directly after his military stint ended, Lane became legislative director for Giaimo and discovered much had developed while he was away on the seniors front with the start of a group called the American Association of Retired Persons, which of course now is the behemoth known simply as AARP.

The group hired Lane, which opened the door to what has been 40 years of advocating for seniors and then those in need of skilled nursing care. He later worked for other associations being formed or expanded in the 1970s, like Leading Age and the American Health Care Association (AHCA), eventually landing at Genesis for the brunt of his career.

When asked about how life on Capitol Hill has evolved over the years, Lane says the focus in the late 1960s and into the 1970s was primarily on “how do we get something done, how do we govern. There was a lot less emphasis on the politics of how do we get re-elected.”

He says the role of government relations back then was mostly to educate, to take and provide technical input as lawmakers worked on policies they thought were both good and fiscally prudent.

Now, there is much more time and attention being paid to what seems to be a never-ending election cycle, to which Lane feels the long term/post-acute care profession has done a good job of adapting over the years.

Life with Modern Politics

Case in point is how the profession deals with what he terms the three key points in how to get elected: money, votes, and technical knowledge. “Money is obviously much more of a prerequisite and why AHCA and Genesis and others have PACs [political action committees] because it helps in getting some access,” Lane says.

On the second key, votes, he says groups having the large-scale ability to take and mobilize people are in a position of strength. “Again, you think of our nursing home sector, we probably have close to 2 million employees, and we have to realize we have the ability to educate and mobilize them,” he says.

The most important of the three items, technical knowledge, is something that has only grown in magnitude over the years, Lane says.  

“We have very complex rules and regulations and very complex situations. Most members of Congress have limited abilities to grasp these, except if they are on a given committee that focuses on our specific issues,” he says. “Our role is to put decision making into context, and help the member and their staff learn.”

Increased staff changes in congressional offices have made this more difficult, but personal relationships are vital in advocating before lawmakers and their staff.

“I think turnover on the Hill has accelerated to the point that we have many, many more people who truly have limited perspective, limited experience. I used to quip that when I was 22, I knew all of the answers, and at 75 I am not so sure if I even know the questions now,” Lane says.
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