Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Haven't we been here before?

CRs and Shutdowns

Unless Congress and President Trump act to prevent it, on Friday night at midnight, funding for the federal government will lapse, and the American public will witness another partial government shutdown. Politics aside, you are doubtlessly saying to yourself, “Haven’t we been here before?” In answering the question, one might look back to the shutdowns of 1995/1996 and 2013, or the numerous other instances in which such a situation was narrowly avoided.

Ideally, the president introduces his budget proposal in February, but it can often be (and frequently is) largely ignored by Capitol Hill. Congress, ideally, passes its budget resolution – a blueprint, if you will – by later that spring. This part rarely happens, and it doesn’t even appropriate any funding. In the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, 12 subcommittees are each tasked with writing bills for their government agencies, and getting those bills passed by their subcommittee, sent to the full committee, as well as brought to and passed on the floor. The bills are supposed to follow that budget that was to have been previously agreed upon by Congress. The House and Senate then negotiate back and forth, agree upon a conference bill, and ensure that the president signs the appropriations bill before the end of the fiscal year on September 30 of each year.

That almost never happens. Only four times, since the 1977 Fiscal Year, has the appropriations process worked as designed. For the 2002 Fiscal Year, Congress actually passed all of its budget bills, but it took 8 Continuing Resolutions (CRs) to get there first. That brings us to where we are this week. When Congress cannot agree on funding, often, they will pass a short-term bill that maintains spending at current levels. The current continuing resolution, to provide appropriations for many government agencies, expires at the end of the day, this Friday, on April 28th.

Congressional leaders and the White House maintain that they are attempting to pass and sign an omnibus bill for FY 2017 containing funding for the entire government passed this week, in time to avert a shutdown, but there are assuredly additional discussions about preparing a short-term CR to allow for more time to negotiate some of the disagreements between the various parties.

With so many interested parties with varying priorities, last-minute budget negotiations can often lead to one faction to include a priority that is anathema to others. Such “poison pills” on must-pass budget legislation have led to shutdowns before. As we move through the week, it’s safest to assume that no policy issue is necessarily safe from the discussion. 


-- By Jared Payne, Advocacy Associates

Monday, April 17, 2017

It's a different year...

Regardless of your politics, it is difficult to deny that one of the themes of the year has been the power of people’s voices. Whether in protests on the streets, in town hall meetings, or in calls to Members of Congress, people have been making news while making their voices heard. The volume of calls coming into Capitol Hill has increased to an extraordinary level.

Contrary to what some may assume, Members of Congress often do love to hear from constituents and are interested in learning about what they can do to help people. When visiting the Capitol, advocates will find that certain strategies can ensure that Members of Congress and staffers are more likely to remember you and your message.

If you have been doing this for a while, you know the importance of having a continual relationship with someone on congressional staff.  It goes without saying that your personal stories, when coupled with an engaged and knowledgeable message go a long way.  Bring facts, figures, and information, but do not let that distract from the heart of your message.  All of this will reflect positively on your reputation as a source of knowledge, as well as that of your organization, and your public policy issue. If you are the most engaged and thoughtful meeting that someone has on their schedule that day, it will be appreciated and remembered by your congressman or senator.

With a new administration and a new congress, it has been a jam-packed spring, and making scheduled meetings has become even more crucial for everyone. If you are going to be a few minutes late to a meeting, reach out, let an office know. In the last couple of months, congressional office schedules have been more in flux than we have seen in the last few years, with occasional last-minute committee meetings or conference meetings. Be prepared for a number of possibilities. Some meetings may be moved to the hallway, or shortened by a few minutes, or others may need to be switched from a meeting with the Member of Congress to a meeting with staff. The congressional offices will do everything they can to ensure there is a meeting, but it’s always good to be prepared to walk and talk if needed.

By keeping those tips in mind your voice will stand out above the crowd, even in a time when so many other advocates and citizens are at their most engaged. 

-- By Jared Payne, Advocacy Associates

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.