Friday, December 16, 2016

What does Appropriations “Regular Order” really look like?

Last week Congress passed, and President Obama signed, another continuing resolution (CR) funding the federal government for the first seven months of FY 2017.  The current CR that was enacted last week will fund the government until April 28, 2017 at FY’16 funding levels giving the incoming 115th Congress time to pass a permanent spending bill.  In these modern times of intense partisanship, funding our government has become a difficult legislative task and appropriation deadlines are more often not met leading to months long CR and sometimes government shutdowns.

Every year, Congressional leaders make promises to adhere to “regular order” to follow the budget and appropriations processes to pass all 12 appropriations bills on time.  The last time all 12 bills were enacted by the federal government’s October 1 start of the new fiscal year was 1996.  Since then most appropriations bills are wrapped up in large omnibus bills and passed many months past the October 1 deadline.  While budget and appropriations deadlines are rarely met, an understanding of what “regular order” looks like will help you in your advocacy efforts.  Below is a list of the timeline of the budget and appropriations process.

  • First Monday in February – The President submits his/her budget request to Congress, kicking off work on the next fiscal year’s federal spending.  The President’s budget request is just a guideline for how the White House would like to see the government funded.  Congress is under no obligation to take the President’s suggestions.  
  • February through May – Congressional Appropriation Committees and Subcommittees begin holding hearings on the President’s budget and begin drafting their own budget.  As a grassroots advocate, this is the best time during the cycle to have the greatest impact in advocating for your causes in the federal budget.
  • April 15 – Is the deadline for Congress to pass a budget resolution.  A budget resolution, among other things, sets the discretionary spending limits and sets spending caps for the Appropriations Committees.
  • May through July – Congress begins marking-up and passing appropriations bills. 
  • August – Congress is on it’s annual, month long recess, spending their time working in the district.  Staff will work and behind the scenes on appropriations bills.  No official work gets done at this time. 
  • September – Congress returns from recess with only a few weeks to finish up work on appropriations legislation.
  • October 1 – The new fiscal year begins and Congress must pass a spending bill or a CR or the government will shutdown.

-- By Jeff Kratz, Contributing Editor, The Sower Group

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Getting ready to turn the page

In this lame duck period (the legislative session between the election and the end of the year) Congress has a busy legislative agenda, which includes passing FY 2017 funding legislation and the National Defense Authorization Act, among others. While this “regular” work is being conducted, Congress is also busy transitioning for the new 115th Congress.

The newly elected incoming House members have just wrapped up two weeks of orientation.  During this time, new members received a crash course in how Capitol Hill works, met fellow incoming and current members, held fundraisers to help pay off outstanding election debt, and received office assignments through a lottery system. 

While the new members were in Washington it allowed for the Republican and Democrat Caucuses to prepare for the next Congress which will begin on January 3, 2017.  Here is what has been completed thus far:

House Democrats last week re-elected Nancy Pelosi of California to a sixth term as House Minority Leader. While she was re-elected on a 134-63 secret ballot vote, she did receive a strong challenge from Ohio Representative Tim Ryan. Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland ran unopposed to remain his House Minority Whip position.

On the Republican side of the House aisle, Republicans have nominated Rep. Paul Ryan to continue to be speaker in the 115th Congress. An official vote for House Speaker will be in January. The Republicans also elected Rep. Kevin McCarthy (CA) to continue to be House Majority Leader and Rep. Steve Scalise (LA) to again be House Majority Whip.

Last week, the Speaker’s Office released the Committee Chairs for the 115th Congress and the Majority Leader’s Office released the 2017 House calendar. House committees and subcommittees will be announced in January. 

In the Senate, Mitch McConnell (KY) was re-elect to another term as Senate Majority Leader and Chuck Schumer (NY) was elected to succeed retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (NV).


As President-elect Trump is busy putting together his administration for next year, so too is the legislative branch of government. The picture of what the American government will look like for the next several years is starting to come into place, giving advocates the time to begin to put together their upcoming legislative strategies.

By Jeff Kratz, Contributing Author, The Sower Group

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Lame Duck Session

It is an interesting time in Washington, a time that comes along only a couple of times in a decade.  In a few weeks a new Congress will be sworn in and a new President will be moving into the White House.  People all across town are trying to prepare for whatever changes come in the new Trump Administration.

This jockeying extends to the current 114th Congress and the changes from the recent election are impacting how this year finishes.  Decisions must still be made about government funding for FY17, which is currently under what's known as a Continuing Resolution (CR). That CR will run out on December 9th, which means that the government will shut down if the deadline isn't extended. Whether to extend the CR and for how long is a decision that will be made by current members of Congress, whether re-elected or not. This is what's known as a "lame duck" session.

Members of Congress will be working in their districts this week, as well as observing  Thanksgiving.  They will take up this issue of the CR upon their return to DC.House and Senate Republican leadership believes the best course of action is to pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) until March 31, 2017, giving the new Congress, and new Republican President the chance to vote on the FY 2017 federal spending.House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) confirmed this approach in a comment the week of 11/13, saying  “The bottom line is that we must fulfill our constitutional duty to responsibly fund the federal government, and do right by the taxpayers who have elected us. To this end, my Committee will begin working immediately on a CR at the current rate of funding to extend the operations of our government through March 31, 2017."

So keep an eye out for what happens with the CR in the next few weeks. The battle over FY17 funding issues -- whether now or in the coming session -- will give us a sense of how stormy the relationship between Congress and the incoming administration will be.

-- By Jeff Kratz, Contributing Author, The Sower Group

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Go Out and Vote!

Just a friendly reminder, don’t forget to go and vote on November 8!!

The absolute most important act any grassroots advocate can do is to research the issues, research the candidates, and vote in every election. Needless to say, this election cycle has been more frustrating than probably any other in recent memory, however failing to vote negates any subsequent grassroots action undertaken. Your right to vote gives you the power to have your say in the direction of our nation. As the old cliché goes, “if you don’t vote, you can’t complain.” 

No matter whom you’re voting for on Tuesday, spend some time over the next few days to research the issues and go vote next week. Make your voice heard!

Monday, October 31, 2016

What Frightens Grassroots Advocates…and what you, a Grassroots Advocacy Coordinator, can do about it!

It’s late October, the World Series is underway, the leaves on trees are changing color and Halloween is just around the corner. This is that one time of year when we allow ourselves to be frightened in the name of fun. We attend parties dressed up as zombies, pay money to go to haunted houses or just stay at home and stream B-horror films where the acting is as fake as the blood. This once-a-year ‘season of scare’ always comes to an end, but for grassroots advocates, the fear of taking your message to Congress can last for 12 long months.

With the white marble hallways, media cameras, and pages and pages of bills, laws, and regulations, Capitol Hill can be as intimidating as the scariest haunted house - even to the most seasoned lobbyist. 

For many grassroots advocates, meetings on Capitol Hill can foster up images of Lt. Colonel Oliver North grilled by Members of Congress at committee hearings, investigating the Iran-Contra affair during the summer of 1987. Fortunately for grassroots advocates, we are not covering anything up, and lawmakers on Capitol Hill really want to hear what we have to say.

Our role as Grassroots Advocacy Coordinators is to ease these fears.  To do this, we need to prepare and inform our grassroots advocates of their upcoming experience. As a Coordinator, your role isn’t to confuse your advocates about the complicated federal appropriations process or the interworking of a particular department or agency. Your job is to make their job easy. 

Whether it’s advocacy from your home state or in Washington, DC, at a coordinated “fly-in,” there are really only 3 things grassroots advocates need to know:

1.  Their personal story. Any good grassroots advocate needs to have a personal story.  Grassroots advocates must know how the implementation of a policy or law impacts them in the real world. Lawmakers need and want to know this information to do a better job making laws for people they serve. If grassroots advocates can effectively tell their personal story and make the case that a policy or law will impact that district and the constituents, lawmakers will listen. No one can make that case better than grassroots advocates who live in that district.

2.  The Ask.  An “Ask” is what an organization collectively decides to request from their lawmaker. Grassroots advocates need to know what to ask during their meetings. The Grassroots Advocacy Coordinator must communicate that “ask” to the advocates and ensure there are no lingering questions.

3.  How to find their government relations team. Grassroots advocates need to know their organization’s government relations team and how to contact them. This way, if a lawmaker or staff asks a grassroots advocate a question during a meeting, the grassroots advocate can put them in touch with the government relations professionals to better answer (and give a correct answer) to the question.

Grassroots advocacy shouldn’t be frightening. Coordinators can prepare grassroots advocates with 3 simple items to eliminate the fear of advocating to lawmakers.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Speaking the Code: What do all those Congressional terms mean?

For those grassroots advocates who have been taking their message to Congress for any amount of time will quickly come to understand that Capitol Hill is a subculture of the Washington political world. As with any subculture, Congress his it’s own terms and lingo. To be a better grassroots advocate, it is sometimes helpful to have an understanding of what these terms mean and how to best use them when speaking with legislators. Below is a list of a few Congressional terms that maybe helpful to grassroots advocates. Information is taken from senate.gov and for a more in-depth glossary of Congressional terms, please click here.

Appropriations: A bill that provides funding for federal programs.  Must be passed every year.

Authorization: Legislation that establishes federal programs or policy. Does not fund established programs.

Code of Federal Regulations (CFR): Is the codes and rules of the federal government. Published in the Federal Register.

Committees: Subsections of the Congress that works on assigned issues of jurisdiction.

Companion bills: Similar legislation that is introduced in by the House and Senate often in a coordinated effort to gain support.

Conference: Selected Members of the House and Senate who meet to resolve differences between two versions of a bill that have passed their respective chambers.

Continuing Resolution (CR): Legislation that funds the federal government for a short amount of time when a full year appropriations bill has not been passed. A CR will fund the federal government at the previous fiscal year level unless otherwise stated.

Dear Colleague Letter: A letter sent between Members of Congress. Dear Colleague Letters are often used to ask for support of an issue or to share information on an issue.  

Discretionary spending: Spending in which Congress can determine the direction of the funds. Discretionary spending is split up between defense discretionary spending and non-defense discretionary spending.

Entitlement spending: Federal spending that Congress does not annually determine. Examples of entitlement spending are Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid.

Executive Orders: Is an order issued by the President that has the force of law.

Markup: When Congressional committees or subcommittees meet to consider legislation.

Political Action Committee (PAC): An organization regulated by the Federal Election Commission that raises and contributes to Congressional and Presidential candidates.


Written by Jeff Kratz, Guest Contributor, Sower Advocacy Group

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Getting the most out of Social Media

We made it! It’s the 21st Century and the future is finally here.  While we don’t have flying cars or time travel just yet, modern advancements still impress us everyday. One innovation during this young century that can both impress and confuse many of us is the development and popularity of social media. Social media has changed the way we communicate with each other, leading to a seemingly smaller world with easier access to information. 

How can grassroots advocates use this new 21st Century technology to advance our policy goals?

Today, everyone from teenagers to grandparents use social media.  The popularity of this new communications medium, combined with its inexpensiveness, has become a helpful tool for Members of Congress to connect with their constituents. Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, or another platform, you’d be hard pressed to find a congressional office that isn’t on social media. 

Here are a few things YOU can do to connect with legislators over social media (after you learn their basic functions):

1.  Use Twitter and Facebook to get your issues in front of Members of Congress. Lawmakers want to hear from their constituents. They want to know what’s on the minds of the voters who will potentially re-elect them. Therefore, “tweeting” (posting on Twitter) about research papers, news articles, one pagers, or questions at Members of Congress helps them know the issues that matter to constituents. This is an excellent way to get your issues in front of Congress.

2.  Thank Members of Congress via social media. Everyday, all day long, constituents, lobbyist, and advocacy groups are asking Members of Congress for something. By tweeting at a Member of Congress or posting on their Facebook page, advocates can show Members of Congress their appreciation for their action. This communication will set you apart from other advocates, and help Members of Congress recognize you the next time there is an issue you want to influence.

3.  Use social media to show positive action. After you meet with your Member of Congress or staff, or your Member of Congress or staff attends an in-district event or site that supports your issues, make sure you tweet to your elected official’s page or post on Facebook about that action. Congressional offices like the free publicity of meeting since it shows that they are working for their district. Also, it reinforces the importance of their activity with your association/group.

Using social media can be an effective tool in your grassroots strategy. Importantly, social media is inexpensive and can reach hundreds, thousands, or even millions, of people.